In Marine Le Pen’s heartland, supporters of far-right party think now is their time

World

It is quiet when we arrive in the French town of Henin-Beaumont.

A rain cloud sits above our heads while a solitary young man is strolling towards us, purposefully. The cloud looks menacing; the man looks very friendly.

“You are a journalist?” he asks, beaming. He’s dressed in a smart shirt and tie, I guess that he must surely be linked to politics and, almost certainly, to the National Rally (Rassemblement National – RN) party.

He is. Like so many in this area, Yanis Gaudillat backs the RN to the hilt. He’s an activist with the far-right party and believes its moment has come. He wants to talk to us, to share his excitement.

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Yanis Gaudillat
Image:
Yanis Gaudillat

“I was surprised that Mr Macron called the election but also very pleased,” he says. “It’s what we have been planning for. And I think we will do well.”

He is a loyal supporter of Marine Le Pen who, up until its dissolution, led the RN in parliament. This is Le Pen’s constituency – she comes here to vote and her office is only 100 metres from where we stand and chat.

French town of Henin-Beaumont
Image:
The town of Henin-Beaumont

Posters of Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella
Image:
Posters of Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella in Henin-Beaumont

But Yanis’s greatest admiration is for someone else – Jordan Bardella, the RN’s president.

Bardella is just 28 years old, but is now tipped to become France’s prime minister should the RN prosper as well in this next election as they did in the European elections.

Jordan Bardella. Pic: Reuters
Image:
Jordan Bardella. Pic: Reuters

“We can see on social media channels, Jordan Bardella is reaching huge numbers,” Yanis says.

“He’s the president of our party, a great politician who in just a few weeks could be prime minister. And then in 2027, why can’t he stand alongside Marine Le Pen if she becomes president?”

In a sense, what stands before us is a battle between two proteges to be prime minister.

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The person holding the office now is Gabriel Attal, himself just 35 years old and a devoted follower of Emmanuel Macron. At the time of his appointment, at the start of the year, much was made of his youth.

Now, his job could be under threat from a much younger man. Bardella, after all, is younger than Harry Styles, Justin Bieber and Dua Lipa. There have been smartphones in the world for his entire life.

Little wonder Bardella is so adept at social media, with more than 1.5 million followers on TikTok.

Read more:
Could Le Pen’s National Rally party take control?
Analysis: Macron is taking a huge gamble
The main takeaways from European elections


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His critics say he is a triumph of style over substance, but if you want evidence of how his brand is working, then you just have to walk through Henin-Beaumont to the town hall.

There, stuck to the windows at the entrance, are the European election results from all the local cantons.

The RN, with Bardella’s name used as the candidate, won everywhere in this area.

And they won by huge margins – in one place taking 73.4% of the vote. Macron’s party Renaissance won 3.2%.

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The man inside the town hall shakes my hand and beams. He looks like he hasn’t had much sleep.

Steeve Briois isn’t simply the mayor of Henin-Beaumont but also a vice-president of the RN. He says he’s spent decades for a time like this.

Steeve Briois
Image:
Steeve Briois

“Macron’s administration has really let down the nation. They’ve been belligerent and used their power in a bad way, bringing in too many reforms. We at the RN – we have given hope back to the people of France.”

The rain starts falling again, but Steeve doesn’t seem to mind. He has no doubt that Bardella will be prime minister and Le Pen will be president.

Here, in Le Pen’s heartland, hope had already transformed into optimism and is now morphing into a sense of certainty. The RN think this is their time.

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