National Front expels figurehead Jean-Marie Le Pen

Ex-leader of far-right French group sparks anger by reviving party’s anti-Semitic past

French Far-Right Front National co-founder Jean-Marie Le Pen arrives for a news briefing at the end of a hearing of the executive committee of the party at their headquarters in Nanterre, near Paris, August 20th, 2015. Photograph: Christian Hartmann/Reuters

French Far-Right Front National co-founder Jean-Marie Le Pen arrives for a news briefing at the end of a hearing of the executive committee of the party at their headquarters in Nanterre, near Paris, August 20th, 2015. Photograph: Christian Hartmann/Reuters

 

Jean-Marie Le Pen, a co-founder of France’s far-right National Front, was expelled from the party on Thursday after he repeatedly angered its current leader, his daughter Marine, by reviving the party’s anti-Semitic past, which she is eager to shed.

The party’s executive board voted to kick him out after hearing three hours of arguments from Jean-Marie Le Pen (87), a former paratrooper who for years has symbolised the most retrograde strain of French politics, including hatred of immigrants and nostalgia for the days of colonial rule in Algeria.

Under his daughter’s leadership, the National Front has broken into the political mainstream. But the older Le Pen has increasingly become an embarrassment to her, especially after repeating his familiar views on the Holocaust.

He has repeatedly told interviewers the gas chambers were a “detail of history” and has said the wartime collaborator Marshal Philippe Pétain was not a “traitor”.

Tussling in public

The Le Pens have been tussling in public for five months, with Marine Le Pen saying in April that she was “in profound disagreement” with her father after his latest remarks on the Holocaust.

France has been treated since then to a father-daughter political feud of rare virulence, one that at first riveted the French public but more recently has seemed to irritate it.

At a special meeting Marine Le Pen called in May, party leaders suspended her father’s membership, but his lawyers later persuaded a judge to order him reinstated.

She won an important round in July when party activists, in a mail ballot, voted by 94 per cent to eliminate his title of honorary party president; that ballot, too, was annulled by a judge.

Jean-Marie Le Pen told a French television station last week that he was “deeply shocked, hurt, and the victim of a political witch-hunt”, and would not support his daughter in the 2017 presidential election.

His lawyer, Frédéric Joachim, told French radio the “National Front, in killing its own founder, has in a certain way committed suicide”.

Terse statement

The party issued a terse statement on Thursday, saying simply that its executive board had “deliberated and decided, by the required majority, on the exclusion of Jean-Marie Le Pen as a member of the National Front”.

Jean-Marie Le Pen had vigorously contested the move in advance, saying the board was not qualified to judge him because they are “paid” by the party.

He arrived at the party headquarters in the western suburbs of Paris in a black limousine with tinted windows, and stumbled in front of a crowd of waiting journalists, before disappearing into the bland three-story building.

Jean-Marie Le Pen regularly ran for president under the party’s banner, and managed to slightly outpoll the Socialist candidate in 2002, but he never spoke for more than a noisy fringe in France.

He proudly advertised his friendships with some of the most notorious surviving collaborators from the second World War - relationships that marginalised him and his party.

Impressive scores

His daughter, by contrast, has led the party to impressive scores in elections for the European Parliament last year and municipal elections this year.

As he stepped out of the car on Thursday, Jean-Marie Le Pen muttered that “only foot soldiers” would be present at the meeting.

His daughter did not attend, nor did her chief aide, Florian Philippot, whose top-flight education and toned-down rhetoric have made him seem the antithesis of Jean-Marie Le Pen and his friends.

Her father’s expulsion marks an important step in Marine Le Pen’s four-year effort to “de-Satanise” the party.

On Thursday, Bruno Gollnisch, an old ally of Jean-Marie Le Pen, stood outside the party headquarters and angrily told journalists that he saw nothing in Jean-Marie Le Pen’s recent statements that was incompatible with the National Front.

Later, Mr Gollnisch, a member of the European Parliament, told reporters the board’s decision to expel the elder Le Pen was “pitiless” and “unjustified”, and called it “the manifestation of an incredible ingratitude”. – (New York Times service)