My cynical readers are convinced that there is no genuine split in the Front National, that Jean-Marie Le Pen and his daughter are simply playing bad cop and good cop, respectively, the one appealing to the party's racist, anti-Semitic base, the other to its more recent converts. It's possible, of course, that they're right, but if so, the news today that the elder Le Pen's blog has been removed from the FN Web site may disconcert the base and lead to some head-scratching among the cocksure commentariat.
Of course, there's no way to prove any proposition about a putative change in the FN's deeper makeup one way or the other. Nevertheless, I think that those who see nothing in the party of the extreme right but business as usual may be missing the forest for the trees. It's no doubt comforting for commentators to think that, with their superior powers of perception, they have penetrated the veil of FN propaganda to divine the true (and perennial) intentions of the "dysfunctional family" that allegedly runs the show.
In my view, this analysis, while painting the FN in the darkest of colors, actually underestimates the party's potential menace. The real danger for France is that the FN may become the most powerful voice of protest against staying the course with austerity and with EU institutions as presently constituted. It's not that opposition doesn't exist elsewhere: there are substantial minorities in the PS and UMP to say nothing of majorities in the Front de Gauche and EELV who would also like a change of course. Marine Le Pen's achievement has been to find a way to stitch together economic anxieties with concerns about loss of sovereignty and national identity. It's a potent mix--far more potent than Jean-Marie Le Pen's double-entendres. Cynicism about the FN's new orientation really avoids the political challenge it raises.