They fight like cats and dogs. Could the Le Pens really be France’s first family?

They fight like cats and dogs. Could the Le Pens really be France’s first family? by Harry de Quetteville.

[Marine Le Pen] the woman who would be the next president of France has never concealed her love of cats. … Her father, Jean-Marie, who in 1972 founded the Front National (FN) which his daughter now leads, is another breed altogether. For years he lavished affection on his dobermanns, whose combination of elegance and menace he always seemed to relish. For more than three decades, until 2014, the cat lady and the dog man rubbed along together in the Le Pen family mansion, Montretout. Then, three years ago, things turned bloody. First, one of Marine’s cats, Balou, strayed too close to Jean-Marie’s dogs, Sergent and Major. A few months later her beloved pure-bred Bengal, Artémis, was snapped up too. Marine was on ­holiday in Spain at the time. But when the call came through she made one of the swift, unbending decisions for which she is famous within her camp: she was finally moving out.

“That’s it,” she told her mother. “It’s over.” In fact, it was just the beginning of a political and personal turf war that proved father and daughter, too, could fight like cat and dog.

Now that war is finished – and this time Marine has emerged the victor, having stripped Jean-Marie of his title, kicked him out of his own party and taken sole control of its destiny. …

The name literally means “show everything”, and that, for the Le Pen family, is exactly what happened: every squabble, every fight, every triumph and humiliation was enacted on the public stage, in the house that was part family home, part FN campaign headquarters. For half a century the Le Pens have staged a remarkable drama comprising mysterious legacies, betrayal, espionage, twilight escapes, the secret handover of a glass eye, photo shoots for Playboy, assassination attempts, and the aspiration to sweep to national power on a far-right agenda. It’s so outlandish, it’s almost unbelievable. But believe you must.

If you have four minutes, this is pretty informative:

Policy differences between father and daughter:

Where he talks of Europe being submerged by “a rising tide” of Muslim immigration that “threatens the very existence of our continent, politically and culturally and legally”, she has said that it is “‘globalisation’s losers who are rising up against the established order, against mass immigration, the intolerable rise of inequality and the reduction of their power over the destiny of their nation”. …

Nothing less than a clash of civilisations, the West against Islam. That, he says, is the pre-eminent question for politicians today – “far more important than retirement age, social security, policy questions like that; all that’s secondary”.

Marine, alert, is careful to steer away from such incendiary terms. When one of her close advisers described French Muslims as “a powerful fifth column living here who could rise up at any moment against us”, she publicly denounced him. Like her father, she mentions “savagery”, but for her it is usually financial – the ruthlessness of unfettered globalisation. “Borders don’t exist for nothing,” she insists. “They are there to regulate exchanges between countries, whether it is of trade or people.”

So does Marine agree when he likens Muslims in France to a “cancer”? Or refers to “Pakis” in Britain who have profited from “too lax an immigration policy” – the risks of which, he infers, ­Britain has finally woken up to by voting for Brexit? It is true, she notes, that “the rejection of uncontrolled traffic of people, of waves of migration”, contributed to Brexit. But where he advocates a doom-laden nationalism to respond to “the rapid establishment of thousands of mosques”, she focuses positively on a “love of one’s country”.

“It’s obvious,” she declares, “that a popular movement, brave and liberating, is underway in the Anglo-Saxon world.” …

Last year she was more explicit still. “The presidential election will be about a big choice: do we defend our civilisation, or do we abandon it?” …

They are different symbols:

This, then, is the great difference between father and daughter – he the great poison thorn in the side of French politics, irredeemably toxic to the vast majority; she the conciliator, the calculator, rounding edges off a strident message to assemble the majority needed to become president.

hat-tip Stephen Neil