'I'll never vote socialist again': damning verdict from French voters in left-wing stronghold

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The Ariège département on the border with Spain is known as one of the most socialist areas of France, with voters regularly turning out in force to support candidates on the Left. But perhaps no more. Mediapart visited this part-rural, part-industrial area, one that has been ravaged by the economic crisis, to find that traditionally socialist voters are now split between grave doubts and anger towards their own party. In the first of three reports from the Ariège, Mathieu Magnaudeix discovers that the main beneficiary of this tide of discontent is likely to be the far-right Front national.

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A quick look in the telephone directory in Lavelanet reveals that many of the names are of Spanish origin, with “ez” or “o” at the end. It is not surprising. In 1936 this small and then prosperous textile town in the département of Ariège, which lies at the foot of the Pyrénées, was a refuge for many Republicans fleeing Franco's Spain. Here they met a number of their compatriots who had made the same journey some decades earlier. Today this immigrant town – after the Spanish came migrants from North Africa – is one of those areas coveted by the far-right Front national at the local council elections in March.