Is this a comeback or not? The vrai-faux retour of Marion Maréchal

Well, if it’s on the The Daily Express web pages, it must be true. The artist formerly known as Marion Maréchal Le Pen, now just Marion Maréchal, just so we don’t confuse her with her aunt, is back. Appearing on the French news channel LCI on Sunday 2 June, at roughly the same time as Laurent Wauquiez was announcing his resignation as head of Les Républicans, Maréchal (‘nous voilà’ - sorry, historical in-joke) made a call for a grand coalition of ‘all the right’ to defeat Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche. The next day, we learned that her father Samuel Maréchal and Arnaud Stéphan, one of her former parliamentary advisors, had launched something called the Alliance pour la France as the basis for this broad coaliton. The comeback was on. Or was it?

Marion Maréchal - That bloke is definitely checking out her tush. From  Le Midi Libre  - 3 June 2019

Marion Maréchal - That bloke is definitely checking out her tush. From Le Midi Libre - 3 June 2019

The grand-daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen announced her temporary withdrawal from politics after the crushing defeat of her aunt, Marine Le Pen, in the second round of 2017’s presidential election. Since then she has been focussed on setting up her own school for political studies in Lyon, cosying up to Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, raising her profile and extending her carnet d’adresses among the American right and far-right, popping up at the odd gilet jaune protest, basically just keeping her hand in. Her intervention on 2 June was her first foray back into national politics for a while.

The timing was predictable, but not just for the reasons one might imagine. Of course, the rout of the republican right is, in part at least, an electoral triumph for the far-right. The Bardella-Le Pen list’s 23.3% of the vote means that Marine Le Pen can continue to claim that the RN is ‘le premier parti de France’. But let’s not forget that there is little love lost between aunt and niece and that, within the dynamics of the French far-right, Le Pen’s choice of the 23 year-old Jordan Bardella to head the list was as much about her choosing and promoting another young poulain to meet the potential challenge of Maréchal as it was to defeat Macron’s list. And it may well be that within the RN, the eventual closeness of the result was something of a disappointment.

It is worth noting the thrust of Maréchal’s interview with LCI. In it, she argued that the RN is not actually capable, by itself, of defeating Macron. And during the week between the European elections and her intervention, polls suggedted a 53%-47% defeat for Le Pen against Macron in a theoretical head-to head. In that situation, and with municipal, departmental and regional elections all due before the next presidential round, a broad but fluid alliance is necessary. Clearly, Maréchal doesn’t think her aunt is the woman to achieve that.

Which is where the Alliance pour la France comes in. Since the idea was floated on 3 June, there have been various denials and rebuttals that this is in fact a party being launched but rather a terrain d’entente aimed at buidling a base ‘from the bottom up’ among the electorate and constraining party leaders on the right and far-right into some sort of ‘organic’ coalition. In reality, it’s about putting Maréchal back into the shop window, undermining Marine Le Pen and new kid on the block Bardella and offering Marion Maréchal as a providential leader of the brave new far-right-led France, playing on her reputation as economically more liberal but socially more conservative and ‘Catholic’ than Le Pen., thereby appealing to the Marche pour Tous/Sens Commun electorate that appears to be the most volatile of the LR’s supporters.

In any case, Tata Marine will be seething.