A British retiree in southwestern France has told how he would have moved if his area had voted in a far-right MP this weekend, expressing fears over a decline in diversity and cuts to local government funding.
Ian Joiner, 75, who lives in Mens, a small village south of Grenoble (Isère), said the increase from 8 to 89 far-right Rassemblement National MPs in France in the elections created concerns about a return to World War Two atmosphere.
The former mountain trekking guide feared Marine Le Pen’s party would cut funding to theatres and other art projects, taking the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region as an example where subsidies have already been reduced by the right-wing Les Républicains (although the RN does not have a seat there).
“I do not want a fascist party to run [my constituency],” said Mr Joiner. He referred to Rassemblement National with its former name – Front National – suggesting that, while the party has changed its image it is the same in essence.
He said, by comparison, that the UK had “smashed every fascist party, even if the government is quite right-wing”.
He was responding to a question referring to a satirical Facebook comment, which suggested that British people were choosing the ‘lesser of two evils’ in living in a Rassemblement National-run constituency rather than going back to the UK post-Brexit.
“The Fascist Party no longer exists in the UK. I do not want a return to a world which I associate with the Second World War.”
Mr Joiner moved to France in 1992, adding that the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was one of the things which motivated him to relocate to France.
‘Lack of diversity’
“The RN has another conception of what culture is, something that I do not want,” said Mr Joiner, saying that culture under RN would mean a lack of diversity of ideas, opinions and forms of expression.
“People who see colour and sexual orientation as the main problems of our society are narrow-minded in spirit,” said Mr Joiner. He said, however, that he knows friends who have voted for the Rassemblement National and understands their vote, estimating it was based on resentment.
The RN’s head of communication did not respond to a request for comment.
Mr Joiner said he was more worried about quality of life changing in other parts of France which are more likely to vote RN than he was about his own area, which generally opts for left-wing candidates.
While Mens – located in the fourth district of Isère – was won by Nupes’ candidate Marie-Noëlle Battistel against the Ensemble! coalition candidate Fanny Lacroix, the sixth district north of Grenoble was won by RN’s candidate Alexis Joly.
Mr Joly is among the 89 MPs to have won under the RN banner, an all-time high under the Fifth Republic, far exceeding the 35 MPs they had in 1986. For many terms the party has only had one or two MPS.
Some regions of southern France, including Vaucluse and Var have seen the RN vote share climb as high as 80%, a figure that had Mr Joiner thinking about relocation.
“When I saw Vaucluse and Var at 80% [for the RN], that bothered me a bit,” he said. “If I say that I will move if it is 100%, what do I do at 80% or 50%?
“That is not the case here, but it is rather sad for other regions of France.”