France's far right turns to youth as Jordan Bardella, 27, replaces Marine Le Pen

National Rally chooses new leader but Le Pen is expected to remain influential

Jordan Bardella, right, is succeeding Marine Le Pen as leader of the National Rally. Reuters
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France's far-right handed power to a new generation on Saturday as Jordan Bardella, 27, replaced Marine Le Pen as leader of the National Rally party.

Mr Bardella is the first leader from outside the Le Pen family since patriarch Jean-Marie Le Pen co-founded the party in 1972.

The departing Ms Le Pen is expected to retain significant influence and potentially make another run for the French presidency in 2027.

"I am not leaving the presidency of the National Rally to take a holiday," she said.

But the handover to Mr Bardella is the latest sign of the party's efforts to modernise its image and appeal to a younger generation.

Mr Bardella, a former party spokesman and current member of the European Parliament, won 85 per cent of votes in the internal contest.

He defeated Louis Aliot, the mayor of the French city of Perpignan, who is a former partner of Ms Le Pen.

"I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the trust that you have placed in me," Mr Bardella told a party conference on Saturday.

It comes days after a racism scandal that threatened to set back years of efforts by Ms Le Pen to detoxify the party's brand.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, left, and Marine Le Pen, second right, seen here in 1986, have led the far-right National Rally party since its foundation. Getty

National Rally MP Gregoire de Fournas was given a 15-day suspension from parliament after yelling "go back to Africa" while a black MP spoke.

He insisted he was talking about migrant boats, not the MP in question, but the remark led to a wave of condemnation.

Olivier Veran, a minister in President Emmanuel Macron's government, used the party's old name to say: "The National Front has shown its true face."

The elder Mr Le Pen, 94, was expelled from the party in 2015 after a long history of racist and anti-Semitic remarks.

Under his daughter Ms Le Pen, 54, the party has widened its support and won a record 89 seats in the National Assembly in June.

At France's presidential election in April, Ms Le Pen won 42 per cent of the vote in a run-off against Mr Macron, another high for the far right.

Mr Macron will be ineligible to run for a third term in 2027 and has no obvious heir in the political centre.

"Jordan Bardella brings youth and renewal," another far-right MP, Thomas Menage, told French television, but "our guiding policy is that of Marine Le Pen and it is very clear."

Updated: November 05, 2022, 3:32 PM