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The genesis of a family feud at the top of France's National Front

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By Joanna Gill  with Le Monde, Reuters
The genesis of a family feud at the top of France's National Front

The father and daughter duo at the head of France’s far-right National Front party may well truly be a thing of the past. The Le Pen family drama has come to a head with a political patricide following a slow-burning war of words.

In a press release Marine Le Pen has severed ties with her father and has called together an executive committee to “protect the best interests” of the party.

It wasn’t always so. Back in 2011 when Marine took over the leadership of the party, her apparent ambition outweighed her disapproval of her father’s often incendiary xenophobic and anti-semitic remarks. But her attempts to re-brand the party were never going to sit well with its firebrand founder.

Having led the party from its foundation in 1972, Jean-Marie Le Pen has made his mark on the French political scene. Out of five presidential attempts, he came the closest to the top job in 2002, making it to the second round of the elections, before losing out to Jacques Chirac.

He has been a constant fixture in the European Parliament since first being elected in 1988, repeating his most famous remarks about the Holocaust in 2009, and provoking disciplinary action from the House.

“I am inclined to say that the gas chambers were a detail of the World War II history, it’s clear,” he said.

The Holocaust comments have been a constant source of embarrassment for Marine Le Pen, but she had yet to fully condemn his actions.

Last June (2014), she acted to distance herself from her father’s comments about a French-Jewish singer, which seemed to refer to concentration camp incinerators.

The final straw came with an interview in the far-right magazine Rivarol this week (April 6) in which Jean-Marie defended his Holocaust comments, as well as WWII French leader of the Vichy regime Pétain and referred to Spanish-born Prime Minister Manuel Valls as an ‘immigrant’.

His interview appeared to be a counter attack on his daughter’s more conciliatory rhetoric on the subject of immigration.

Marine has tried to soften the party’s anti-immigrant stance in order to broaden her appeal ahead of presidential elections.

“When I talk about immigration, I try to talk about immigration and avoid personalising it as talk about immigrants,” she said. “After all, these people are trying to leave poor countries to live in countries that they believe are rich, which is less and less the case, it’s quite a natural move.”

Though Marine Le Pen is riding high in opinion polls, the family feud has dealt a blow to the movement and the rift at the top of the National Front risks pulling the far-right party apart ahead of the all-important presidential elections in 2017.