By Martin Smith and Tash Shifrin | 29 March 2015
Welcome to our election liveblog. The fascist Front National party is seeking to take control of département councils in the second round run-offs in France’s local elections.
11.15pm Round-up: With results in for 94 of the 101 départements (including the FN’s main targets), interior ministry figures show the party has 62 seats, with another four for the Ligue du Sud, a splinter from the FN. This makes a total of 66 for the fascists.
It has been a grim election overall. The map of France’s départments is turning blue – this election has seen a big shift to the right, with both the fascists and the mainstream right celebrating. The main trend is that the conservative UMP and its allies have won out over François Hollande’s centre left PS.
But the headline gains are for the fascists. Their gains, though falling short of the FN’s aim of taking control of entire départments, are unprecedented in elections for this tier of government. In 2011, the FN had just two councillors at this level, with another for the Ligue du Sud.
On top of the FN’s other electoral gains over the past few years, this week’s wins and the 25.2% of the national share of the vote it took in the first round leave it well placed as it looks to the 2017 presidential elections.
The results for Hollande’s PS in these elections might make useful reading for Labour’s Ed Miliband: austerity government is deeply unpopular. Voters have abandonned the PS in droves.
11pm FINAL RESULT Hérault: in another area where the FN was making a strong push, the fascists have taken six seats.
10.55pm We are waiting for the last few results now.
10.45pm FINAL RESULT Pas de Calais: The FN has secured 12 seats in Pas de Calais, Marine Le Pen’s stomping ground.
FINAL RESULT Somme: The FN has taken two seats here. In better news, so has the leftwing Front de Gauche.
10.15pm FINAL RESULT Var The FN now have six seats on the départment council in one of their big four target areas. The remainder of the council is entirely made up of the conservative UMP and its centre right allies. There are no councillors at all from the PS or any part of the left. Grim.
10pm FINAL RESULT Oise The FN has taken four seats in this northern départment.
FINAL RESULT Marne Two seats for the FN here.
FINAL RESULT Haute-Marne Four seats for the FN in Haute Marne, including two gained in the first round.
Oise, Marne and Haute-Marne are all areas where the FN has been making a strong push this time round.
9.55pm FINAL RESULT Gard: The FN has taken four seats in this département in the south of France, where it was making a concerted push.
FINAL RESULT Nord Better news from Nord, also an area where the FN wanted to make gains – but has won no seats this time.
By contrast, the leftwing Front de Gauche has won six seats in Nord, with another two for the Communists. That’s a more cheerful bit of news at last.
9.50pm racism: It’s not just the FN that has run a racist campaign. As the election campaign rolled on conservative UMP leader Nicolas Sarkozy’s speeches have moved sharply to the right and become more openly racist towards Muslims – a crude attempt to win over votes from the FN.
Sarkozy has argued that school canteens should not offer alternative pork-free menus to children. He has also argued that the hijab – the headscarf worn by some Muslim women – should be banned from French universities.
The Parti Socialiste: Tonight’s results mark a third political battering within a year for the PS, following the municipal and European elections.
Big divisions are opening up inside the PS, and these look set to grow – earlier today PS president François Hollande vowed that there would not be a reshuffle after the elections nor would he change the direction on his pro-austerity regime, including a forthcoming review of labour laws.
9.45pm FINAL RESULT Vaucluse: The final result in the southern déparetement of Vaucluse, where the fascists have maintained a base since the 1980s, is now in. The FN has six seats and the fascist Ligue du Sud splinter group has another four.
FN founder and honorary president Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine’s father – who pops up regularly to remind the fascists’ hardcore supporters that his daughter’s attempt to clean up the party is only for show – declares he is pleased that “symbolically” the Vaucluse canton of Carpentras had “fallen into the hands” of the FN. This town is where the historic Jewish cemetery was attacked and desecrated by fascists in 1990, in an incident that shocked France. Part of the town already falls within the parliamentary constituency of Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, Jean-Marie Le Pen granddaughter.
The radical left Front de Gauche took two seats in Vaucluse.
9.35pm FINAL RESULT Aisne: We have confirmation now that the FN has not achieved its target of taking control of the Aisne départment council. The fascists have taken eight seats of the 42. Don’t cheer too soon though – to put this in context, the fascists now have four times as many seats in Aisne alone as the FN took across the whole of France in the 2011 elections.
The radical left is also represented in Aisne, with three seats.
9.30pm on the left: Interior ministry figures for the cantons declared so far put the Communist Party on 76 seats, with the radical left Front de Gauche on 15.
9.20pm turnout: According to the French interior ministry, turnout for the second round was around 42% at 5pm French time. This is slightly lower than the figure at the same time during the first round last Sunday, but higher compared with the canton elections – the nearest equivalent, although the electoral system has changed – four years ago (36%).
9pm Le Pen calls the results “the foundations for the big victories of tomorrow”.
Worryingly for antifascists, the FN is indeed laying groundwork for the future here. It is important to understand that the FN has significantly expanded its base of locally elected officials and in the process it is able to present itself as a “mainstream” party.
8.50pm fascists take 40 seats so far: The interior ministry says according to the results so far, the FN has 36 seats, including those won in the first round, with another four going to fascist splinter parties.
The radical leftwing Front de Gauche has 15 seats so far.
8.45pm contrasting moods: Marine Le Pen has hailed tonight’s results for the fascists as a “historic” day for the FN. Whatever the final number of seats, the FN has made major gains since 2011 and this campaign will be another stepping stone as the fascists look to the 2017 presidential elections. “These elections are a step on the road to power,” Le Pen gloated.
In contrast, prime minister Manual Valls admitted the PS had lost ground, and said that the rise in the FN’s popularity had brought “a lasting change in France’s political landscape”.
8.40pm FINAL RESULT Meuse: The FN has secured two seats in the second round in Meuse, in the north east.
Aisne and Vaucluse: the FN concedes it will not take these two main target départment councils, although it will gain seats. Fascist FN vice president Florian Philippot now admits he “doesn’t think there will be any départments” won by his party. Good.
8.30pm FINAL RESULT Moselle: Good news – the FN has failed to take any canton seats at all in Moselle, a département where it hoped to score some successes, failing even in Hayange where there is an FN mayor.
8.15pm What to look for: National share of the vote doesn’t mean much in the second round as these elections are run-offs between only those candidates who qualified after the first round. This means that in many places the FN no longer has candidates. But the fascists have already – after the first round – increased their gains on the canton elections of 2011, when the FN took two seats. And this time the FN has gone through to the second round in more than half the 2,000 or so cantons.
The party aims to gain canton seats, and if it has a majority in any départment, control of the départment council.
The total size of the FN’s vote is best gauged from the first round, when it took 25.2%, a similar level to its vote in last year’s European poll, although not the 30% it had optimistically hoped for.
8.10pm Moselle: …but there is better news from Hayange in the north east départment of Moselle, where an FN mayor was also elected last year. Here the FN have lost the canton, beaten by the PS with 54.7% to 45.3%.
8.05pm Pas de Calais: In the former mining town of Hénin-Beaumont in Pas de Calais, where the FN won the mayor’s seat last year, the fascist party has narrowly won the canton election, by 51% to the PS’s 49%. Hénin-Beaumont is where FN leader Marine Le Pen came within 118 votes of becoming the local MP in 2012, beaten by the smallest of margins by the PS candidate.
7.45pm: A reminder that while the PS has called on voters to back the centre right against the FN in second round contestst where it has not qualified to stand itself, the conservative UMP’s Nicolas Sarkozy urged abstention in contests between the PS and the fascists.
7.35pm: general picture: The ruling Parti Socialiste and its centre left allies are expected to lose a swathe of seats to the mainstream right tonight . Working class voters have turned away from the PS as president Hollande has continued the austerity regime of the conservative UMP under Nicolas Sarkozy.
The FN has scooped up many of these voters in the areas where it is strong, turning bitterness at austerity in a racist direction, scapegoating those from ethnic minorities, particularly Muslims and immigrants.
7.30pm Aisne: There may be good news in Aisne tonight, where Le Monde is reporting that the FN will fail to take the département council, despite winning the Vic-sur-Aisne canton in the first round. This is one of the FN’s big four targets.
7pm preamble: After all the first round votes were counted, the FN had secured eight councillors, in four “pairs”, for the cantons of Vic-sur-Aisne in Aisne département, Eurville-Bienville in Haute-Marne, Le Pontet in Vaucluse and Fréjus in Var. These councillors were elected in the first round as they gained more than 50% of the vote. Its national share of the vote was 25.2% – and closer to 26% across the seats where it stood.
The fascists have contested 1,114 cantons in today’s second round. In around 280 cantons the FN is up against the centre left – the Parti Socialiste of president François Hollande and its allies. In another 532, the FN will be up against the centre-right coalition led by the conservative UMP. There are also 298 three-way contests and a four-way election.
These are the first elections for the councils at département level since a major boundaries shake-up and a new polling system that means voters will be asked to vote on “pairs” of one man and one woman candidate in each of around 2,000 cantons – the subdivisions of France’s 101 départments. The département councils have responsibility for social welfare benefits, school buildings and roads.
The FN will be looking to take the département councils in Var and Vaucluse in the Mediterranean south of France, and Pas de Calais and Aisne in the far north. Of these areas, Var is currently held by the centre-right and the other three councils by the centre-left.
These regions were the FN’s strongholds in the European elections – areas of high unemployment, in two strips in the industrial north and Mediterranean south of France – as they were in the local elections. The fascists’ 14 town hall mayors give them an additional permanent base in their target départements.
The FN is also set to make a strong push in the Oise, Somme and Nord départments in the north, along with Gards and Hérault in the south, where they will take on the Parti Socialiste. They also threaten to do well in the northeastern départements of Marne, Haute Marne, Meuse and Moselle, where they are challenging the centre right.