LE PEN: AS IT HAPPENED
After heated clashes outside the Union, MAX TOOMEY recounts the story from inside the chamber.
As The Tab’s previous report mentions, a large number of protesters had gathered outside of the Union ahead of Marine Le Pen’s speech. Those outside were adamant that Marine Le Pen should not have been given a platform to speak at the Cambridge Union.
Weyman Bennett, Joint Secretary of Unite Against Fascism, explained why he had made the journey to Cambridge:
“I wanted to give my solidarity to those people that don’t want to see Le Pen push Nazi politics in the 21st century.
“If you give them a platform they’ll use that platform to push murder and division.”
But one student – who declined to be named – watching from the otherside of the road, told The Tab, “While I find Marine Le Pen distasteful, I reserve the purest hatred for book burners and that is all that this is.”
After a heated start to proceedings, Le Pen eventually arrived in the Union Chamber to a relatively innocuous round of applause from the 500 or so students inside.
Much of her speech ended up being lost to the audience, as it became evident that she had no time to pause for her translator; the English was, at times, drowned out by Le Pen’s forceful delivery.
The FN leader spent much of her time attacking the EU, claiming: “The European Soviet Union has completely failed” and that French politicians had sacrificed sovereignty“in order to make us blend into the European identity.”
On the question of France’s future in the next 30 years, Le Pen called for a radical break with the past, telling the audience that if immigration continued to “suck in so many people from outside” that French identity would be in danger: “The French will be diluted… the identity of France will disappear.”
On Israel, Le Pen told the audience in the Chamber that she supported the creation of a Palestinian State but that Israel must be guaranteed its security.
But the questions posed by Union members undoubtedly proved to be the most interesting part of the event.
A question from Francesca Hill, a former Union President, brought attention to one of the issues many in the audience had come to hear discussed: “How many generations of ancestors does a person need in a country to be able to call it their home?”
A bullish Le Pen responded, “You are mistaken, Miss.” She went on to say, “Many generations have assimilated into French Culture. What happens now is that individuals are not assimilated individually; we are supposed to be under the obligation of a collective assimilation.
“We need assimilation, which requires a lot of effort on the individual level. If they haven’t got a job or housing then it makes it hard. We need to love our country and stop hating France.”
One of the most controversial moments of Le Pen’s speech was to compare “The two totalitarianisms of the 20th Century: Fascism and Communism” to what she saw as their modern equivalents: “There are two totalitarianisms in the 21st century: Islam and globalization…If we do not fight for freedom against the totalitarianisms of the 21st century we will disappear off the face of the earth, not just France but Britain as well.”
When asked about terrorism, Le Pen likened radical Islam to “a cancer cell which permeates”, bringing hatred and violence.
When asked why wearing a Turban or a Burqa would mean someone loves their country any less, Le Pen responded: “They are the very first victims of prejudice. Many of these victims attend Front National meetings, they are tired of this litany in society and where they work where they are being perfectly secular, they are the ones who are victimised, who are unjustly considered radicals… we are aware of that and have to consider it too.”
Afterwards, few Union members leaving the building seemed convinced.
An ex-student, who declined to give his name, called Le Pen’s statements “A load of waffle, nothing concrete. I think she was trying to come across as reasonable as possible but I don’t think anyone was fooled.”
Mairi Iness from Pembroke was similarly sceptical: “She didn’t come across as reasonable at all…some of her points were ok, but I wasn’t convinced. It was quite hard to hear because of the translation.”
Martha Morey from Fitzwilliam summarised Le Pen’s talk as “Predictable, really quite confusing and pretty awkward. It also wasn’t helped by much of it being lost in translation. I think it’s best for people to see her like that, as an ineffective politician.”
In reaction to the speech, the Union released this statement to The Tab: “This event provided students from the Cambridge Union with an opportunity to engage with and challenge a speaker who has been very influential in the field of French and European politics.
“The vast majority of the event was dedicated to a Q&A session in which students got the opportunity to intensively grill Mme Le Pen.
“Our members rose to the challenge and tackled her on the issues she raised in her speech, from globalization and the EU to France’s colonial history and nationalist politics.
“Free speech is an essential part of a vibrant democracy, as is the ability to participate in an open and free exchange of views. Today’s event demonstrated this perfectly.”
Video filmed by Hunter Allen. Edited by Bennie Tucker.