France’s far right patriarch Jean-Marie Le Pen viciously turned on his daughter on Tuesday after being suspended by the National Front party which he founded and handed over to her.
A family feud that has rocked the far right party with all the twists and turns of a Greek tragicomedy came to a head on Monday when the 86-year-old, who led the FN for four decades, was suspended by its top officials.
The octogenarian firebrand hit back by saying he no longer wanted to see his daughter win 2017 presidential elections and was ashamed she still carries his name.
“I hope she will drop it as soon as possible. She could do so by marrying her partner … or someone else,” he said.
Marine Le Pen, 46, and other party leaders have put their foot down over the patriarch’s inflammatory statements that represent a view of the FN they are trying to leave in the past: overtly racist, anti-Semitic and too polarising to win votes.
While the party remains anti-EU and anti-immigration it has worked hard to soften its image since Marine took over in 2011 and has seen its popularity soar, enjoying a series of election successes.
Several polls have shown she could pose a serious challenge to the conservative UMP and ruling Socialists in 2017 elections.
But her father’s refusal to tone back controversial remarks last month led to a bitter public dispute between the two.
The elder Le Pen repeated his view that the Nazi gas chambers were a “detail” of history and also claimed that France has to get along with Russia to save the “white world”.
Marine decided enough was enough and openly split with her father, saying he was committing “political suicide” and withdrawing her support for his bid for December regional polls.
Furious at his suspension, the octogenarian turned harshly on his daughter, accusing her of “betrayal”.
Asked if he wanted his daughter to win the 2017 election, Le Pen said: “For the moment, no.”
“If such moral principles should govern the French state, that would be scandalous,” he said in a radio interview.
He said his daughter was “a bit worse” than the mainstream parties in parliament “because an adversary fights you head on, here they are stabbing you in the back.”
– ‘A rambling old man’ –
A special meeting of FN members will be called within three months to decide whether to strip him of the title of honorary president and analysts say Marine may use the opportunity to change the name of the party for a complete break with its past.
Jean-Marie Le Pen’s suspension has sparked divisions within the party but analysts said it was unlikely to create a real split.
Sylvain Crepon, an expert on the FN, said there was “affection” for Jean-Marie among party members but even those who were very attached to him “have long thought he goes a bit far”.
He said while Le Pen could still be a “media nuisance … he risks isolating himself completely and ending looking like a rambling old man.”
The latest feud is not the first time the Le Pens have seen family conflict spill over into public territory.
In 1987, Jean-Marie’s wife Pierrette posed naked in Playboy to humiliate him in the middle of their divorce and a decade later he fell out politically with his second daughter Marie-Caroline, with whom he no longer has contact.
The relationship between Marine and her father has been particularly rocky in recent months.
Six months ago, she stormed out of her father’s house after his Doberman dog savaged her Bengal cat to death.
The recent spat was laid bare for all to see during the party’s traditional May 1 rally in Paris when the elder Le Pen — conspicuously dropped from a line-up of FN leaders on stage — strode uninvited onto the podium, grabbing the limelight as his daughter readied to make her speech.
“I think that was a malicious act, I think it was an act of contempt towards me,” Marine said on Sunday.
“I get the feeling that he can’t stand that the National Front continues to exist when he no longer heads it.”