Colin Brazier: France is on a political rollercoaster that makes Brexit look tame

If Macron decides he needs to curry favour with French nationalists to win votes from Zemmour, we should brace ourselves

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Imagine a British politician who advanced a policy that the children of all immigrants to the UK should be forced to take Christian first names. And now imagine that the advancement of such policies – far from making him a pariah – actually made him hugely, dizzyingly, popular. This isn’t an abstract thought-experiment.

It’s a true reflection of French politics right now, and the remarkable rise of Eric Zemmour.

I’ll come onto his policies in a second, but a point about his popularity first. In the latest surveys he scores about 17 per cent of the popular vote in France. To put that in context, Britain’s Liberal Democrats score about half that number. He’s not even said whether he’ll run in next year’s presidential election, but if he did, these polls confirm that he would be Emmanuel Macron’s sole rival.

If it came to a choice between him and the president, Macron would win, but it wouldn’t be a walk-over. The national vote would split 55-45. That’s the same number of people who voted for Scottish independence, who say they’d vote for someone with convictions for hate speech. But consider this. When French electors were last surveyed about Zemmour, seven per cent of them said he’d get their vote. That was only a month ago. Now he’s polling 17 per cent.

As the French pollsters observed this week: “A candidate has never been known to experience such a change in voter intentions in so short a space of time as we’ve seen with Eric Zemmour.”

So, who is Eric Zemmour? He’s a 63-year-old newspaper columnist who has shot to popularity for his punchy television appearances.

What does he argue for? Well, he may be the son of Algerian Jews, but he blames North Africans for many of France’s troubles, including what he alleges are a thousand violent crimes committed by immigrants every day. In some respects he’s quite left wing, advocating widespread nationalization and withdrawal from NATO. But on much else, he’s to the right of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party.

He openly advocates the Great Replacement theory that says white Europeans are being replaced by newcomers, especially Muslims, who he describes as “colonisers”. Zemmour wants a referendum on future immigration and, en passant, says his country is heading for civil war.

You might scoff. But in France, this doesn’t make him David Ike. Earlier this year 25 retired French army generals wrote an open letter to Emmanuel Macron, warning him that Civil war was coming.

If he stands to be the French president, will he win next April? Probably not. But like a new planet, his gravitational pull is having an influence on others.

Presidential hopefuls like Michel Barnier, who strove to keep Britain in the EU, have struck a noticeably more Eurosceptic tone of late. But his main impact may be on Marine Le Pen. If the polls stay as they are, he may bring about her political demise. But before the liberals start cheering, that would probably mean her replacement by her young niece, Marion Marechal Le Pen. Unlike auntie Marine, Marion has not tried to make her views more middle of the road. It may be that Eric Zemmour is a flash in the pan. But he’s burning brightly right now.

Thousands have been flocking to hear him speak in public. He’s been compared to other populist politicans, most obviously Donald Trump, but the comparisons fall flat. Zemmour is erudite. He peppers his diatribes with literary and historic quotations. He’s hard to place. Certainly Emmanuel Macron doesn’t know whether to ignore or denounce him.

What’s for certain is that our nearest continental neighbour is on a political rollercoaster that makes Brexit look tame. That instability will affect us. Already relations between Britain and France are strained over fishing, defence pacts and channel migrants.

If Macron decides he needs to curry favour with French nationalists, if he feels it necessary to wrap himself in the Tricolour to win votes from Zemmour, we should brace ourselves. Bashing Brexit Britain is a quick and easy way of proving his patriotic credentials. That's the Brazier Angle.