Destinations Magazine

Operation Detox

By Stizzard
Operation detox

“I SAW her!” squeals a teenaged girl. “I got a photo!” shrieks her friend. As Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front (FN), steps from her dark-windowed car on to the streets of this quiet rural town in the Picardy plains, she is treated as a minor rock star. In an arresting change from the past, nobody seems embarrassed to show enthusiasm for a populist, far-right party or its carefully groomed leader.

Retired couples and mothers with pushchairs shove forward; smartphones are thrust into the air to capture the moment. Even before Ms Le Pen arrives on a bright market day, a crowd gathers on the pavement in the hope of catching a glimpse of her. “Perhaps she’ll be the one to save France,” says a middle-aged woman with chilling sincerity.

Ms Le Pen’s celebrity welcome in the tiny northern French town of Doullens is a mark of how far she has transformed a once-toxic fringe movement, stained by neo-Nazi links and anti-Semitism, into an almost respectable party aspiring to govern. Five years ago voters who felt drawn to her father, Jean-Marie, a gruff former paratrooper who founded the party in 1972, still kept their approval half-…

The Economist: Europe

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