Marine Le Pen's bid to change the name of her National Front party descended into farce and legal wrangling on Monday. But far right experts claim any rebranding will fail to achieve what she wants.
Ever since her crushing election defeat to Emmanuel Macron in May 2017 Marine Le Pen has hinted that a change to the party's name could be they key to her winning next time around.
Shortly after her defeat in the second round of the 2017 election when asked whether the party's name — still associated for some with the anti-Semitism and overt racism of her father, former FN leader Jean-Marie Le Pen — was a millstone, she said: "Yes, I think so.
"It does not encourage unity beyond the party," she said, adding that France's changing political landscape called for a new name.
At the National Front party conference on Sunday, Le Pen stuck to the same theme saying "For a lot of French people… it's a psychological barrier."
She then announced that her chosen new name would be "Rassemblement National" which roughly translates to National Union or National Rally or more literally National Gathering.
The name change is Le Pen's latest attempt to de-demonize the party, a project that has been going on for some years.
In the last election she even dropped her own surname from campaign posters as well that of the National Front and changed the party's traditional logo in a bid to disassociate herself from her party and father Jean-Marie Le Pen, both tainted by racism and anti-Semitism.
But as soon as the name had been announced there was little sign of unity either in the party or outside.
'I'll see you in court'
For a start Igor Kurek, the president of an existing movement named "Rassemblement National" sent an angry message to Le Pen via Twitter, telling her in no uncertain terms that she had no right to the name.
“Dear Marine, the RN (Rassemblement National) already exists and you can’t deny its existence when it has stood against your candidates several times since 2014,” Kurek wrote.
“The RN is Gaullist and republican right, the FN is extreme right. The FN will NEVER be the RN and the RN will NEVER be the new FN,” he added.
But Le Pen then told French radio that her party had actually registered the name Rassemblement National in 1986 and they did indeed have the right to use it.
But that prompted Kurek to take to a different French radio station to tell Le Pen he would see her in court.
“Once again, Marine Le Pen has made a beginner’s error … that’s not how it works," he said.
'New name harks back to Nazi collaborators'
Even within the party there was little sign of militants uniting behind Le Pen's plan to change names.
The National Front canvassed 51,000 members last year about whether it should change its name and on Saturday it emerged that just 52 percent had voted in favour among the 30,000 who responded.
It wasn't just the fact the name was already in use that made it a bad Monday for Le Pen.
She was also heavily criticised for choosing a name that harked back to a fascist faction named "Rassemblement National Populaire" that had collaborated with France's pro-Nazi Vichy government during World War Two.
That group's logo incorporated part of the Nazi swastika, something that many in France have been quick to mention.
Enfin il a existé un Rassemblement national populaire, créé par Marcel Déat en 1941, parti collaborationniste dont le logo était explicite pic.twitter.com/krRvRRGaBD
— Vivien Vergnaud (@Vergnaud) March 11, 2018
Choosing a name very similar to a group that had so admired Nazi Germany does not quite fit in with Le Pen's longstanding ambition to sanitize the party and make it main more acceptable to a wider portion of voters.
But then the action of a National Front militant once again revealed that Le Pen's attempts to soften the party's image and cleanse it of openly racist elements always have their limits.
Davy Rodriguez who is also a parliamentary assistant for the party, was filmed apparently calling a bouncer at a bar in Lille a "black piece of shit" during a drunken late-night dispute on the eve of the party conference.
He was suspended on Sunday in a decision that was approved by Le Pen, a party source told AFP. Rodriguez admitted to an argument but told the Buzzfeed website that the video was a fabrication.
Le Pen was also heavily criticized at the weekend for inviting former Donald Trump aide Steve Bannon.
"The king of fake news and of white supremacists at an FN summit… why am I not surprised?" remarked parliamentary affairs minister Christophe Castaner, who also heads Macron's centrist Republic on the Move party.
"Change of name but not of the political line," he said.
Political commentator for BFM TV Laurent Neumann made the same observation.
"Everything changes so that nothing changes," he said, noting that Le Pen's hour and a half speech contained all the same National Front ideas that had been rolled out "for the last 40 years: immigration, security, globalisation."
'The National Front will never get near government'
Indeed it is that political line that French far right expert Jean-Yves Camus believes will always stop Le Pen from being elected or becoming a major force in parliament rather than its name.
"What really makes a difference is the ideas of a party," Camus told The Local. "In her speech she said she wanted to stop even legal immigration. Many mainstream conservative politicians in France want to stop illegal immigration but campaigning to stop legal immigration is simply not possible
"It's the same for Europe. There are many conservative Eurosceptics but they wouldn't unite with Le Pen.
In the previous election Le Pen's promise to quit the euro and the EU was deemed to have been too extreme to many voters who although they may have been sympathetic to Le Pen's anti-immigration policies were simply too worried about the impact on their savings of walking out of Europe.
Camus' view was backed up by a recent poll which revealed that 66 percent of French people had never voted for the National Front and don't ever plan to.
"What prejudices people against the National Front is their ideas. At the moment they have no hope for a coalition. Unless the mainstream conservative party really collapses and a significant amount of its support switch to the FN, Le Pen's party will stay at around 20 to 25 percent of the vote but it will never get anywhere near government."