The British have long been known to appreciate a good betting odds game and French elections have provided numerous opportunities to place a wager on the outcome. The British had initially supported the Front National (FN) party in the lead-up to the 2017 French presidential election out of sympathy for its anti-establishment position and opposition to immigration. However, as the results came in, the British public began expressing disappointment that their second favourite party, the Socialist Party (PS), had not won more seats and that the result was therefore unlikely to be a FN president. At this point in time, the British bookmakers were offering odds of 10/1 (one in ten chances) on the popular French presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, winning the elections.
Why Did The French Election Appeal To The British?
It was the culmination of a long political decline for the British National Party (BNP) and its leader, Nick Griffin, who in 2004 had been charged with incitement to racial hatred after leading a procession of British and Irish flags through the centre of London. The French had initially taken a liking to Griffin and his brand of humour, but his anti-immigration stance and the general public’s perception that he was encouraging violence against foreigners, most of whom were Muslim, led to the BNP being banned in France. Despite this, several French-speaking communities in Britain had continued to support Griffin and the BNP did manage to secure a spot on the ballot paper in one London borough, although the party lost all its other London seats in 2010. The BNP vote share fell from 12,000 in 2004 to just 3,600 in 2014, as far-right parties made significant electoral gains across Europe culminating in the Brexit referendum where the British public voted 52% to 48% to leave the European Union.
The 2017 French presidential election was initially expected to favour the Front National, as a number of polls had predicted a clear victory for the right-wing party. The British media had also latched on to the story of Rémi Lévy, a French writer who had proposed that the British adopt a similar strategy to the National Front and form an alliance with the French far-right in pursuit of a ‘Great Britain’ – an independent British state that would be predominantly English speaking and where ethnic minorities, such as the French, would be subjected to “equality before the law”.
A National Front President In London?
In London, the BNP had supported the English Democrats in the 2015 mayoral election, as well as the Conservatives in some parliamentary seats, in order to keep the issue of British withdrawal from the European Union (EU) on the political agenda. After Brexit was secured, the BNP expected to see a surge in support, as many of its voters had backed Brexit in order to see Britain leave the European Union. However, for the most part, the British public had shrugged off the decision to leave and had begun to focus on other political issues.
A Shift In Attitudes
According to the British Journal of Political Science, there has been a “shift in public opinion” towards isolationism since the EU referendum, with many Britons expressing a desire to withdraw from the bloc rather than become more involved in foreign politics.
The year 2014 had seen a number of terror attacks in the UK, some of which were carried out by British nationals who had travelled to Syria to fight alongside Kurdish fighters. In response to this, support for membership of the EU had jumped up by 7% among the British public. However, the desire for British disengagement from European affairs did not extend to the desire to enter into an alliance with the far right in France, as many British still see the country as a desirable partner.
In the run-up to the 2017 French presidential election, the British media had predicted a “landslide” victory for the Front National, following similar far-right party victories in countries such as Hungary and Poland. However, the British media’s obsession with the far right did not take into account the changing attitudes of the British public and the fact that support for the Front National had begun to drop significantly.
Marine Le Pen’s Shift In Strategy
The Front National leader, Marine Le Pen, had decided to change tack and began to present herself as an anti-establishment figure who would stand up to the political and economic elites in order to appeal to disillusioned voters. Several major political scandals had plagued the French presidential election campaign, with allegations of financial misconduct and fake online personas used to peddle false news stories. The party had also been forced to apologise for comparing Muslims to rats and for suggesting that the victims of the 2004 Madrid train bombings were in some way complicit in the attacks.
In the lead-up to the French referendum on leaving the EU, several prominent politicians, including former Prime Minister of France, Alain Juppé, had publicly urged the country to vote “No”. This had clearly stung Le Pen, who decided to follow suit, taking a leaf out of Donald Trump’s book and presenting herself as a strident advocate of “nationalism”, who would stand up to the elites in order to secure victory for her far-right party.
The Undecided British Voter
In the run-up to the 2017 French presidential election, the British bookmakers, Paddy Power, had taken into account Marine Le Pen’s controversial track record and began offering odds of 10/1 that she would win the elections.
In the referendum on British membership of the EU, 80% of voters had been unable to make up their minds, with the “undecided voter” becoming a major factor in preventing a clear-cut victory for either side. In the first round of the French presidential election, more than a quarter of voters (27%) remained undecided, which had also prevented a clear-cut victory for either candidate in the first round. However, in the second round, when voters had finally had enough time to make up their minds, Le Pen had managed to secure just over half of the vote (52%), compared to Macron’s almost 31% and Fillon’s 16% – a result that had surprised many political analysts. Paddy Power had initially offered odds of 9/1 (that is, one in ten chances) that Le Pen would win the elections, but as the result began to come in, the bookmakers adjusted their odds to 2/1 and subsequently cut them to 1/1.
In contrast, Macron’s victory in the French presidential election had not been a complete shock to those who had followed politics in France for many years. Macron had been President of the Republic, a largely ceremonial position, since the beginning of 2017 and had been credited with France’s economic turnaround, with the country now enjoying its most prosperous period in over half a century. He is also well-regarded for having modernised and humanised the presidency, which had previously been characterised by a number of famous Frenchmen with a penchant for wearing wigs.
The Impact Of Social Media
The role of social media in influencing elections had been widely debated in the lead-up to the 2017 French presidential election, particularly after it was revealed that Emmanuel Macron had been funded largely by wealthy businessmen and that several of his rival candidates had received donations from the French royal family. The French media had also been accused of amplifying the role of social media in the elections, with many prominent journalists and commentators being openly critical of politicians who refused to appear on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.
In the run-up to the French referendum on leaving the EU, several Brexit-related hashtags had begun trending on Twitter in France, with many journalists and digital specialists warning that Russian agents were attempting to influence public opinion using social media. However, this had not stopped several prominent Frenchmen and women from using social media to proclaim their support for a “No” vote in the referendum, attracting significant media attention to themselves.
What Next For The French?
Although Marine Le Pen will no doubt be disappointed that she did not win the French election, the outcome does bode well for her and for the right wing in general. With far-right parties gaining popularity across Europe, the British media’s obsession with the French far right will undoubtedly be exploited again, with the British bookmakers setting odds of 11/1 that another far-right party will emerge as the next French government. It will then be up to the British public to decide whether they want to continue engaging with France or to cut all ties and pursue an independent British foreign policy.