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Le Pen top aide sidelined as scapegoat, as FN rebuilds

Former FN Vice President Florian Philippot, who quit Thursday. Party leader Marine Le Pen says she'll rebuild without him.
Former FN Vice President Florian Philippot, who quit Thursday. Party leader Marine Le Pen says she'll rebuild without him. Bertrand Guay/AFP

In a sign that France’s far-right Front National party is still in turmoil after a presidential defeat in May, the top aide to leader Marine Le Pen quit Thursday, as did other members who say they disagree with the direction the party is taking.

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FN vice-president Florian Phlippot unexpectedly announced he was leaving the party on a live television news programme. He had been demoted the night before, relieved of his strategy and communications responsibilities, officially because he had conflicts of interest.

In mid-May, right after the election, Phlippot started an association called The Patriots which he saw as a think tank for the party. Le Pen and others say was actually a new political movement.

Phlippot is considered to be the architect of Le Pen’s strategy of “de-diabolising” the FN, shifting it away from its racist past, and instead focusing on exiting the Eurozone, a position that may have lost her the election.

Political analyst Joel Gombin told RFI that Phlippot was turned into a scapegoat. Party leaders and activists were frustrated that Le Pen did not win in the second round of the presidential election, despite being promised such a reslt.

“There was a great deal of frustration,” says Gombin. “And I guess Florian Phlippot was the scapegoat that was meant to pay for that.”

It’s not clear that his being sidelined calmed the frustrations, and the party’s strategy will not be specifically revealed until a convention next spring.

What next for the FN?

Phlippot warned on Thursday that the FN’s attempt to reposition itself after the election shows "a terrible backward slide" towards the FN's hard-line past.

Gombin says that hard-line past never really disappeared. Even if the party was shifting away from hard-line positions on immigration, for example, voters did not.

“It’s hard to say whether the FN will go back to what it was 10 or 15 years ago, or transform into something else,” says Gombin.

The transformation could be superficial – a name change is under consideration. The larger questions of strategy and alliances are trickier.

Phlippot was very against any alliances between the FN and other parties. He had pushed the idea of the party as neither on the left, nor the right, appealing to voters upset with globalisation in general.

Now that he is no longer part of the party, it could consider making alliances, though there are few choices today, beyond small far right groups.

Le Pen did said Thursday that the party will "rebuild itself without difficulty” and will continue to campaign for "national sovereignty".

Joel Gombin says she is not addressing the issue of alliances at all.

“My sense is that she… prefers to focus on specific points, like whether or not to stay in the Euro, or superficial issues like the name and the logo,” he says. “She’s not willing to open a large debate, because now that Phlippot is gone, if she doesn’t deliver what people want in the party, she won’t have another scapegoat.”

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