The forthcoming appearance of BNP leader Nick Griffin on Thursday’s Question Time panel has led Dr Jim Shields, an Associate Professor in French Studies at the University of Warwick, to recall what happened after the first appearance of far right French politician Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the Front National (FN), on a key French TV programme in February 1984.
The programme was the prime-time evening L’Heure de vérité (The Hour of Truth) on channel Antenne 2 (one of what was then three main French TV channels). On it, politicians were questioned for an hour by a panel of journalists before a live audience. The show had many parallels to the UK’s Question Time - in its topicality, its political focus, and the fact that getting invited on it was the mark of being, or becoming, a nationally significant politician.
Dr Shields says:
“This was February 1984, when Le Pen and the FN were still almost entirely boycotted by the media, and electorally insignificant (more insignificant than the BNP today). The programme attracted a lot of opposition and large viewing figures. Le Pen acquitted himself well, under pressure, and dispelled something of his 'bogeyman' image. In the days following, the FN reported a rush to join, raising its claimed membership to 30,000. This was an implausible claim - real membership probably rose to less than half that figure - but it is clear the TV programme had a real impact in legitimising Le Pen and drawing new people to his party.”
“Just after the programme went out, voting intentions for the FN in the European elections of June 1984 doubled, from 3.5% to 7%, and in the election itself the FN would score fully 11% (2.2 million votes). It should also be noted that after the programme, in a Figaro-Magazine poll, those with a 'positive opinion' of Le Pen rose to 13%, and then rose again to 17% by summer 1984.
“This single hour on prime-time television paid huge political dividends for Le Pen and the FN - a real milestone passed in political acceptability. In his autobiography, Le Pen would point to that TV programme as the start of his political rise, calling it 'the hour that changed everything'. If the clock ticking down to Thursday evening on the BNP's website is anything to go by, Nick Griffin anticipates a similar effect from his appearance on Question Time.”
Dr Jim Shields is an Associate Professor in French Studies at the University of Warwick
He can be reached on tel. 02476 524292 email firstname.lastname@example.org
Or please contact the University of Warwick Press Office: Peter Dunn on 024 76523708 or 07767 655860
PR121 21st October 2009