Marine Le Pen has proposed changing the name of the Front National to Rassemblement National – loosely translated as National Rally in English – as part of a makeover aimed at ridding the French far-Right party of its racism-tinted past and getting it ready to take power.
She made the proposal at the close of a two-day party conference where members voted to definitively sever ties with her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the firebrand founder of the movement who has a long history of making racist and anti-Semitic remarks.
But on the same day that Ms Le Pen, who took over ten million votes last year in her failed bid for the French presidency, spoke of a bright new future for the FN, her party had to suspend a senior official after he was caught on camera making a racist insult.
Ms Le Pen said the FN’s current name was "associated with a glorious and epic history that no-one can deny" but she said it was also an impediment that prevented the eurosceptic and anti-immigration party winning power in elections.
"For a lot of French people… it’s a psychological barrier," she told hundreds of activists at the conference in Lille, the capital of the party’s northern heartland.
The new name must now be approved by party members in a mail vote before it can be adopted.
The possible name change is part of a broader makeover – aimed at “de-demonising’ the party – the 49-year-old has been pushing for since she became leader in 2011.
“Our objective is clear – it is power,” she told the conference, with the next step in the plan victory for the party in next year’s European Parliament elections which she said will likely result in a eurosceptic majority in the assembly.
Ms Le Pen’s popularity has slumped since her disastrous finale in the presidential campaign last year that took her centrist rival Emmanuel Macron to the Elysée.
But despite her troubles, she was re-elected to a new term as party president at the Lille congress. She was the only candidate for the post.
The divorced mother of three won a major boost on Saturday when Steve Bannon – the man who helped Donald Trump ride a populist wave to power in the US – made a speech at the Lille conference.
He praised Ms Le Pen’s vision of a political spectrum that no longer spans left-right but which pits “nationalists” against “globalists.”
"Let them call you racists, let them call you xenophobes, let them call you nativists. Wear it as a badge of honour. Because every day we get stronger and they get weaker,” Mr Bannon said.
Profile | Marine Le Pen
Ms Le Pen drew the on the nationalist versus globalist theme in her own speech, lashing out at President Macron as an arch-globaliser who was destroying French cultural values and allowing mass immigration that was weakening France’s identity.
She also attacked the “sinister” EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier’s “sordid” attempts to exploit the issue of the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland to “punish the British people.”
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