In Depth

Marine Le Pen suspends Jean-Marie: but is she her father's daughter?

Far-right family feud deepens as the National Front's patriarch is suspended from the party he founded

France's National Front has suspended its founder Jean-Marie Le Pen following a string of inflammatory remarks and an ongoing family feud.

Described as the far-right party's "old warhorse", recent comments in which he has belittled the Holocaust, voiced support for Philippe Petain - the leader of France's Nazi-collaborationist Vichy regime - and said the Ebola virus could wipe out France's immigration problem in three months, have proved too much.

Relations between Jean-Marie and his daughter Marine Le Pen, the current president of the party, have frayed in recent years as a result of his increasingly controversial views.

Ahead of a disciplinary hearing which Le Pen senior refused to attend, Marine Le Pen said that her father "should no longer be able to speak in the name of the National Front".

He has threatened to take legal action against his suspension and says he has disowned his daughter, The Guardian reports. "I am ashamed that the president of the Front National has my name and I hope she loses it as soon as possible." 

In the coming months, members will vote on a proposal to strip the 86-year old of his title of honorary president of the party. Le Pen still holds on to his seat in the European Parliament and his position as a regional councillor.

But there are risks to the party cutting itself free from the ageing patriarch, says the BBC's Hugh Schofield. "Le Pen pere will be a nuisance till his last dying breath. The old guard will grumble. Marine Le Pen's enemies will say nothing really has changed," he warns.

Marine Le Penn has long tried to distance herself from her father's racist and anti-Semitic comments, attempting to rebrand and modernise the party her father founded almost half a century ago. But, while she may have persuaded some voters, not everyone is convinced.

Marine Le Pen's rise to power

"The Le Pen dining room table was the home of French far-right," with Marine and her two sisters exposed to politics at breakfast, lunch and dinner, writes Le Figaro. Though she began campaigning for the National Front with her father at the age of 13, Le Pen didn't go straight into politics. After graduating from one of France's top law schools, she worked as a public defender taking pro bono cases. "That meant acting at times for illegal immigrants, something some of her rivals in the National Front still hold against her," the BBC reported in 2012.

In 1998, she quit her job and became the head of the National Front's legal department. Soon after, she stood as a parliamentary candidate, eventually getting elected to the European parliament in 2004. She assumed control of the party in 2011 when her father retired.

What does her party stand for?

"Our people demand one type of politics: politics of the French, for the French, with the French. They no longer want to be directed from outside," Le Pen told supporters at a victory rally last year.

Her nationalist, conservative, eurosceptic party is pushing to abolish free borders in Europe, and she has said that she believed that strengthening national borders would halt the free movement of jihadists across the continent. "The nation's border is the nation's first defence against Islamic fundamentalism," she said at a recent debate at the Oxford Union which drew crowds of protesters.

Le Pen is against gay marriage, anti abortion and wants to drop the euro in favour of the franc. She rejects the 'far-right' label, saying it marginalises a party with a wide and significant support base, even though her views on immigration are considered so "toxic" that even Ukip has refused to do a deal with her party in the European parliament.

Her popularity

Le Pen's voters are made up of the "victims of globalisation," argues Sylvain Crepon, a sociologist who specialises in the French far right. “They are the small shopkeepers who are going under because of the economic crisis and competition from the out-of-town hypermarkets; they are low-paid workers from the private sector; the unemployed," he told the BBC.

The presidential election in 2012 and last year's European election saw Le Pen's support base widen, with more women than ever before voting for the National Front. She is viewed by many voters as far more moderate than her father, and has sought to associate herself with more mainstream political parties across Europe, reports The New York Times

"She doesn't make racist or xenophobic statements," one female voter told Al Jazeera, explaining that she would never have voted for Le Pen senior.

The National Front is becoming increasingly popular with young voters, argued Nigel Horne last year in TheWeek.co.uk. "With unemployment at record levels, and Hollande's government making little or no progress in its attempts to revive the French economy, the young have put their collective foot down."

Controversies

Her critics argue that, despite her promises, Le Pen has failed to tone down her father's anti-Semitic and Islamophobic rhetoric. She once compared Muslims praying outside mosques in France with the Nazi occupation, later justifying her comments by saying she was merely giving voice to what many other people felt. "[Although] there are no tanks, there are no soldiers, it is nevertheless an occupation and it weighs heavily on local residents," she said.

Libération, the left-wing French newspaper, responded to her comments with an editorial, which read: "She is indeed more dangerous even than her father. Given a lick of paint by Marine, xenophobia is back in the spotlight.” 

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