For my own credibility, I shouldn’t admit to it. But I will. Last night, I had dinner with Jean-Marie Le Pen and I found him quite charming. Admittedly, we didn’t dwell on his more odious policies – he has been advised by his daughter to tone-down his revisionist views of history, racist barbs and virulent nationalism. But on a lot of issues, he talks a lot more sense than any of the other politicians out there. And it is this, and not solely an inherent racism among French people, that explains his widespread appeal.
‘You have to convince French people that to look at the state to take care of everything will bring certain ruin,’ he told a dinner party of mainly foreign journalists. ‘Giving freedom back to French people is to give them back responsibility.’
Successive French governments, he says, have proved incompetent. Citing the example of the growing tent city of homeless people along Canal Saint Martin, he said: ‘We have people running this country who don’t want or don’t have the means to solve the problem. They tackle the consequences and not the cause.’ To solve the tent problem ‘they make a law’ giving homeless people the right to demand a roof above their heads. ‘Laws never solve anything. How will they put in place this law?’ Homeless people ‘can’t tale a lawyer because they don’t have a centime. It’s pitiful.’
His answer of course, is better immigration controls. He denies all charges of racism, challenging a journalist who assumes that the woman appearing on National Front posters challenging state failures over assimilation is a beurette. ‘She could have been Sicilian,’ he says.
‘People will be surprised about how many people in the suburbs vote for me,’ he claims. And if his record in predicting electoral success is anything to go by, he could well be right. While she was being overlooked by the mainstream French establishment back in 2002, Le Pen picked Segolene as the next Socialist leader. ‘She has a sublime name that goes down well on the left bank and Boulevard Saint Germain,’ he said. And the party ‘needed something new.’ He also claims he predicted Jospin’s defeat in 2002.
On his own chances, he cast himself as a romantic warrior. ‘I’m like Zorro,’ he said. ‘ You never see him directly but you know he is there. You hear his horse.’