A Move to the Right: On 10 December Laurent Wauquiez (born 1975), MP for Haute-Loire and President of the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region, was elected as the leader of the centre-right Republicans. He secured an overwhelming victory with 74.6% of the vote. The turn-out was, however, low with less than half the Republicans membership taking part in the poll. The Republicans had been effectively leaderless since April 2017 when Francois Fillon (born 1954) was eliminated in the first round of the presidential elections. Wauquiez’s election victory marks a shift to the right for the Republicans. Wauquiez has placed an emphasis on traditional social conservatism, opposition to immigration, and security issues related to Islamist terrorism. He has portrayed the Republicans as representing the values of provincial France in opposition to the metropolitan elite represented by the presidency of Emmanuel Macron. Key supporters of Wauquiez’s leadership bid included Guillaume Peltier (born 1976), MP for Loir-et-Cher, Mayor of Neung-Sur-Beuvron, and former National Front youth leader, and Gil Averous (born 1973), the Mayor of Chateauroux. Laurent Wauquiez is regarded as an effective political campaigner and organiser, and his election marks a generational as well as ideological shift within the leadership of the Republicans. Wauquiez will, however, face a formidable challenge in restoring the electoral fortunes of the Republicans following the electoral setbacks they suffered in the presidential and parliamentary elections in April and June of this year.
Fishing for National Front Votes: The shift to the right has brought the Republicans close to the political and electoral ground currently occupied by the National Front. The increasing proximity of the Republicans and the National Front was acknowledged by Marine Le Pen when on 20 November she proposed that the two parties work together in opposition to Emmanuel Macron. This suggestion of a potential alliance between the Republicans and the National Front was, however, swiftly rejected by Wauquiez. Rather than seeking to work with the National Front leadership Wauquiez appears instead to be seeking to appropriate their voters. The problems that the National Front has faced in the aftermath of the presidential and parliamentary elections may make them vulnerable to such a hostile takeover attempt directed at their voter base. Since Marine Le Pen’s disappointing election result in May 2017 the National Front has been riven by personal and ideological conflicts. Florian Philippot (born 1981), Vice-President of the National Front and previously key strategic advisor to Marine Le Pen, resigned from the party on 21 September 2017. His departure represented a victory for the southern traditionalist wing of the party over the northern populist faction with which Philippot was associated. Florian Phlippot has also, perhaps fatally, quarrelled with Louis Aliot (1969), a National Front Vice-President, MEP, and Marine Le Pen’s partner. Marine Le Pen’s parliamentary and media performance since the election has been widely considered to be lacklustre. Direct calls for Marine Le Pen’s replacement as leader of the National Front have, however, so far only come from figures such as Robert Menard (born 1953), the Mayor of Beziers, who ia aligned with but not actually a member of the National Front. Marine Le Pen has consistently stated, since the election, that she intends to stay on as leader of the National Front. It is also unclear who would take Marine Le Pen’s place if she were to cease to be leader of the National Front. Marion Marechal Le Pen (born 1989), a National Front MP and Marine le Pen’s niece, was popular with the National Front membership and viewed as a possible future leader, but she did not stand for re-election in the June 2017 poll, and has subsequently shown no indication that she intends to return to political life.
Remaining on the Centre Ground: The Republican Party has since the presidential elections seen the departure from its ranks a significant group of senior centrist figures. A number of Republicans accepted positions in Emanuel Macron’s new government. These included Edouard Philippe (born 1970), who was appointed as Prime Minister, Bruno Le Maire (born 1969), Economy Minister, Gerald Darmanin (born 1982), Minister of Public Actions and Accounts, and Sebastien Lecornu (born 1986), Minister for the Environment. In June 2017 20 Republicans MPs led by Thierry Solere (born 1971) combined with the 18 MPs from the Union of Democrats and Independents (UDI) to form a parliamentary grouping which called themselves ‘The Constructives.’ This grouping declared itself to be ready to work with Emanuel Macron’s Republic on the March (REM) party. In late November 19 of the Republican MPs in the Constructives parliamentary grouping formed a new centre=right political party called Act. The new party declared that it would ‘defend centre-right, liberal, social, European, humanist, reform ideas.’ Other former Republicans, including Thierry Solere, Gerald Darmanin, and Sebastien Lecornu, chose to formally join Macron’s REM. The centrists who remain within the Republican Party are largely gathered around the veteran Republican and former Prime Minister, Alain Juppe (born 1945) and Mael de Calan (born 1980) a young Republican politician and opponent of Laurent Wauquiez. They have, however, been weakened both by the victory of the right in the leadership contest and the defection of other centrists form the party.