Left Front (FdG). The French Communists (the PCF) had been strong before the war though less so than the PS’s predecessor the SFIO. The party emerged from the Second World War strengthened by its leading role in the French resistance during the war. The party could count many intellectuals and public figures among its supporters, including Pablo Picasso. The PCF became the dominant party on the left.
The party was weakened by the Fifth Republic electoral system however. The two round system worked to largely exclude the PCF from the National Assembly. The PCF won the most votes in the first round in the first Fifth Republic legislative election in 1958, but only won 10 seats. The party would later come to benefit from cooperation with the more moderate left.
Nonetheless, the party hungered for power and increased its cooperation with the centre-left especially after the formation of the Socialist Party. Entry into government with the Socialists in 1981, and the increasing popularity of the Socialists under Mitterrand served to devastate the party and it began to lose support. From 20.6% support in 1978 the party’s support collapsed to 9.8% by 1986. The party subsequently fell to 4.8% by 2002. A succession of boring, bureaucratic party leaders also hurt the party.
The party saw its salvation in the PS Senator and cabinet minister Jean-Luc Melenchon who formed a new party, the Left Party. Melenchon, a poetry-loving, charismatic and fiery orator (he once described Marine Le Pen as ‘half-demented’) stood in sharp contrast to the PCF’s boring and stale leadership.. An alliance was mutually beneficial. The PCF stood to gain from Melenchon’s popularity and Melenchon needed a strong party machine to fulfil his ambitions and the PCF still has the third largest number of members (though most are very elderly) of any French party after the UMP and PS. The two parties thus formed the Left Front.
The Front has proved to have some electoral popularity and has expanded the PCF’s shrinking electorate. Melenchon stood as the Front’s candidate for the 2012 Presidential election, where his radical platform included a maximum wage of 360,000 Euros (and this would even apply to French expats!) and raising the minimum wage to 1,700 Euros, and re-establishing 60 as the retirement wage.
Melenchon surged in the election, polling up to 17% by the end of the campaign but fell back to 11% on election day, likely due to tactical voting for Hollande.
The party won 6.9% of the vote in the legislative elections but won just 10 seats compared to the PCF’s 15 in 2007 due to a shift in its electoral coalition. Whereas the PCF’s voters had been predominantly blue collar, the FG’s base is much more middle class, tending to be intellectuals and public sector workers. Hence the party lost seats in the PCF’s heartlands while failing to replace the seats in new areas. Melenchon stood against his arch-nemesis, Marine Le Pen, in her own constituency, but both failed to be elected, losing to a PS candidate. Nonetheless the Front has continued, no doubt because the PCF is out of other ideas on how to stop the bleeding of its base.
The FG has gone into opposition to the current government, and there are some signs that the Front is benefitting from disenchantment with Hollande’s presidency. Melenchon has taken to fiery speeches calling for a Sixth Republic and heading protests against VAT rises. Melenchon is a MEP in the South West region and this may further aid the FG in the election.
The Left Front is a member of the European United Left, with the Front being the second largest component of the group. In addition to the Left Party and the PCF the front’s MEPs also include a Communist Party of Reunion MEP. The PCF and Melenchon tend to vote alongside their group around 90.1% of the time, above average for the EUL/NGL group, the Communist Party of Reunion MEP votes alongside the group 85.2%, slightly below average.