Friday, May 11, 2012

Mélenchon-Le Pen

Jean-Luc Mélenchon may challenge Marine Le Pen in Hénin-Beaumont. Beyond the clash of these two colorful personalities, an imaginative analyst might see the labor pains of a new political formation struggling to be born: a party of the laissés-pour-compte of globalization, la France du Non et des exclus, a party of workers in declining sectors, retirees, small businessmen, blue-collar workers displaced by immigrants, etc.

Sociologically, such a party might make sense, but history has forged two distinct sensibilities in these social strata, two sensibilities so different that the cleavage between them is unlikely ever to be breached by political entrepreneurship. Mélenchon's effort may be viewed as an epic battle to prevent Marine Le Pen from consolidating her gains among these groups, for it is she who has come closest to achieving a party realignment, and if she makes further gains in the legislative elections and/or provokes internal dissension within the UMP, she may take yet another step toward making the extreme right the premier party of les classes populaires.

Mélenchon recognizes this danger, but it's not clear how much support he would actually command among the blue-collar workers of the 11th District of Pas-de-Calais. These are not the nostalgics of May '68 who thrilled to his speech at la Bastille. Le Pen scored better than 31% in this district in the first round of the presidentials, against under 15 for Mélenchon. The deck is therefore stacked against him. If he decides to throw his hat in the ring, he will deserve some credit for fighting the good fight, but it seems to be a losing battle.

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