THE announcement by Marine Le Pen that she was standing aside from her position as president of the Front National did not come as a complete surprise in France.

She has, after all, been gradually distancing herself for some time now from the source of the Front’s reputation as a neo-fascist organisation, namely her own father.

This is personal for her, hugely personal. For she knows that unless she can cast off the twisted and bitter legacy of her father, the Front’s founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, she has no chance of becoming president of France.

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It is nevertheless a bold move by the 48-year-old lawyer who will now face centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron in the final ballot on May 7. The fact that she has made it to the last run-off in this election is testament to the extraordinary transformation which Marion Anne Perrine Le Pen has wrought in the Front National. In 2012 she fought her first presidential election and came third behind Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy with 17.9 per cent of the vote in the first ballot, Hollande going on to win in the final ballot. Both Sarkozy and Hollande, it should be said, were well clear of Le Pen with 27.2 per cent and 26.8 per cent of the first round votes respectively.

Eliminated at that stage albeit with an increased vote for the Front — her father had polled only 10.4 per cent in 2007 — she vowed to try again and with her “kitchen cabinet” in the Front she examined what could be changed to make the party electable.

The conclusion was massive, simple and deeply personal. If Marine Le Pen was ever going to have a chance of being president of France, she would need to make the Front National unrecognisable from the party of her father. There was just too much opprobrium, too much hatred and bitterness, attached to Jean-Marie Le Pen’s extremely divisive vision for France. Since then she has deliberately set out to “de-demonise” her party, and has boosted membership of the Front to in excess of 90,000 while at the same time changing its appeal to make it more populist — her attacks on globalism have gone down particularly well.

Twice divorced with three children, Le Pen has not hidden the personal side of her campaign to re-invent the Front, aided and abetted at all times by her current domestic partner Louis Aliot who is seemingly in limbo at present — he remains the vice-president and deputy leader of the party his wife has just left.

Aliot has already said he will not be the “First Monsieur” of France should his wife win the presidency, nor will he be a minister in her government. Some even say he is the architect of her withdrawal from the Front’s leadership. He is known to be reluctant in the spotlight — the former rugby player who stands 6ft 5ins tall was enraged when his wine was spiked with laxatives by gay rights activists in the Front, and his profile has been very much lower since.

The personal aspect continues with her current man, then, but Marine Le Pen’s greatest challenge is to escape the vast shadow created by her father.

Jean Marie Le Pen founded the Front National in 1972 having previously been a member of the National Assembly for two different populist parties. He would be the Front’s leader for nearly 40 years until he stood down and was replaced by his daughter in 2011.

He and his collaborators from the right wing of French politics solidly built the party from nothing throughout the 1970s and 80s, espousing views ranging from the return of the death penalty to bans on immigration. He was not always an opponent of the European Union, having become an MEP at one point, but as the party drifted even further rightwards — a French court said it was legally fine to call its leaders fascists — Le Pen began to castigate the EU and become ever more nationalist in the bigoted sense of the word. In short, he became the “Devil of the Republic”, which is why Marine has sometimes been called the “Devil’s Daughter”.

The utterly shocking result of the French presidential election of 2002 changed everyone’s view of Jean-Marie Le Pen. There had been some signals that the Front was gaining support, but on April 21, 2002, it was announced that Le Pen had come second in the first round of voting in the presidential election. People in France still speak of “le avril 21” in hushed tones, as it was a truly momentous moment in recent French history.

Here was an openly racist anti-Semitic demagogue, an anti-immigrant xenophobe who had called the Holocaust a “detail” — he was fined in the French courts for saying that — and an all-out populist in the Donald Trump mode on the final two-man ballot to become President of France.

Amid massive anti-fascist protests he did not succeed, being massively beaten by Jacques Chirac on a 82.2 percent to 17.8 per cent outcome.

Far from altering his approach, Le Pen took his party even further right, and his personal appeal reached a new nadir from 2003 onwards when he was accused by French newspaper Le Monde of having tortured prisoners during the war in Algeria — the paper produced the dagger he had used in court when Le Pen lost his libel case against them.

He was then twice fined for making anti-Muslim remarks that were judged to be inciting racial hatred, and his and his party’s already diminishing popularity figures dipped even more.

Enter Marine, whose mother Pierette Lapanne had left Le Pen and posed naked in Playboy to humiliate him — a dysfunctional family perchance?

Marine was always intended to inherit the leadership and duly did when her ageing father stood down in time for her to contest the 2012 election. Since then the personal nature of the conflict — they both deny it, of course — between Le Pen and her father has not gone away and two years ago she expelled him after one nasty remark too far. A purge of party members expressing anti-Semitic and racist views has also been ongoing. It should be noted that Marine Le Pen has taken the Front National to new heights in several recent elections, achieved by bringing in more liberal approaches to same sex marriage and gay rights, as well as dropping the return of the death penalty.

She is still fierce in her views on curbing immigration, however, and has promised the French people a say on the country’s future in the EU, gleefully seized upon by the Daily Mail as “Frexit”. Making her announcement of standing down from the leadership of her party, albeit temporarily, she said: “Tonight, I am no longer the president of the National Front. I am the presidential candidate.

“I have always considered that the president of the republic is the president of all French people... Now is the moment to move from words to action and it is the reason why it (standing aside) seemed essential to me.”

The problem for Marine Le Pen is that even if she shakes off the cloud cast by her father in terms of party policy, no one will ever be able to forgot that it was Jean Marie Le Pen who made the Front National what it has been for most of its 45-year life, and that is why she is likely to beaten in the run-off.