‘La République, c’est moi’ (J-L Mélenchon, October 2018)
We haven’t heard much latterly of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, hard-left, unapologetic Marxist leader of his France Unbound Party and elected Deputy. Often blessed by newspapers with the title Tribune (as in ‘of the People’) this 66-year-old – regularly seen as Macron’s main opponent – can be a fine speaker and debater, with a wonderful command of language. He has now shown himself as an unpleasant bullyboy and blowhard.
Mélenchon twice finished 4th as Presidential candidate. In 2012 he got 4 million votes, last year he got 7 million (just 200K less than the right’s candidate, Fillon, and 600K less than Le Pen who went through to the run-off against Macron). Many thought (including perhaps Mélenchon himself) that he could win through to the Presidential run-off. He lost some support when he refused to urge his Party members and supporters to vote for Macron as President against Le Pen.
Like the Front National (and the centrist Democratic Movement, the Government’s partner party), Mélenchon’s party has seemingly indulged in FakeJobsGate activities. They used Euro-Parliamentary staff to work on French national political matters, rather than Euro-Parliamentary. Mélenchon still has further problems with his Presidential Election accounts, with accusations of over-invoicing of communications services (eg charging €200/minute for subtitling a video – in all, €1.6million was spent by Mélenchon’s campaign with Mediascop, the company run by his own Comms. Director).
‘A political police operation'(Mélenchon, October 2018)
Continuing enquiries into both these matters resulted in near melodramatic scenes last week. The police arrived (mob-handed) to search France Unbound’s Party HQ, as well as Mélenchon’s/activists’ homes. Mélenchon reacted with anger. His eloquence turned straight to super-high-octane pomposity. He described an ‘enormous political police operation … to intimidate and frighten … intended to destroy [them] and besmirch [their] honour’. [Comparative Extremist Note: Le Pen calls the judicial pursuit of her and her Party as ‘persecution’.] Mélenchon said the police operations were ‘a political offensive led by Macron’s people’.
Urging his supporters to ‘break open the door’ while his Party premises were being searched, he confronted the police literally face to face. Mélenchon screeched ‘I am the Republic. I am a Parliamentarian.’ He filmed the police searching his home, as he said: ‘Don’t touch me. You have no right to touch me … Nobody can touch me. My body is sacred. I am in Parliament’.
Here’s a Huffpost France film showing Mélenchon and chums asserting (again and again) that ‘no-one pushed anyone’ … with wonderfully clear footage of a furious Mélenchon giving the magistrate a damn good push [it’s in slo-mo too]:
Challenging the police to hit him he said ‘We’ll see who has the last word’. Here’s still more footage of Mélenchon in near-hysteria having utterly lost it. A constant theme running through the films is Mélenchon making himself out to be a victim of a political plot by the Government, the Minister of Justice and, above all, M le Président.
Should Mélenchon actually get the last word (and he’s that prolix it’s a fair bet he’ll carry on talking regardless) magistrates are, in any event, investigating Mélenchon’s conduct during the searches, regarding ‘threats or acts of intimidation against the judicial authority and violence against persons having public authority’. To add injury to injury, a police trade union – as well as Radio France (see below) – have formally reported Mélenchon’s language/actions to the police.
‘Hatred of the media and those that run the media is justified and well-founded’ (Mélenchon, February 2018)
After his physical (and oral) assault on police and public prosecutor alike, Mélenchon turned to his other bête noire, the press. He pursued them with Trumpian insults and threats. This followed up his blog comments earlier this year, when defending leader of the Right, Wauquiez, against a ‘fierce attack by the media … one cannot speak freely anywhere … the press is the leading enemy of the freedom of expression … hatred of the media and those that run the media is justified and well-founded’.
Back to last week. Having called journalists ‘morons’, Mélenchon described France Info as State radio, encouraging his supporters: ‘Make their lives awful wherever you can … In the end, we need thousands of people saying ‘France Info‘s journalists are liars and cheats”. [France Info is the news station of public radio Radio France.]
On his blog, Mélenchon called for a ‘public debate with the Radio France defamers on a station like BFMTV which doesn’t belong to the Government’. Once he’d finished railing against public radio, Mélenchon also took a pop at Mediapart, an investigative website (run, à la française, by a former Le Monde editor who, when a young Trotskyist, initially worked for the Revolutionary Communist League’s rag).
Mélenchon called Mediapart a ‘disgrace’ for revealing facts about the police searches [supposedly confidential until formal charges are made]:
- a €12K cache of cash had been found in a comrade’s home, and
- the boss of his comms company, Mediascop, had been at Mélenchon’s place at 7am when the police arrived, and that they have a long-term relationship
Calling Mediapart despicable, Mélenchon said they were in the pay of the police and the judges. But what will probably most make Mediapart tremble is Mélenchon encouraging the comrades to cancel their Mediapart subscriptions. Drawing again on The Trump Playbook for Dealing With Hostile Media, Mélenchon declared himself the victim of a plot ‘orchestrated’ by Government, helped by police and judges, and the whole brouhaha stirred up by a hostile press.
To cap his nasty week, Mélenchon indulged in a further bit of unpleasantness. He dismissed a question about police enquiries from a France 3 journalist. Stating he didn’t understand her, he imitated her south-west accent: ‘No, Madame, you don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re talking nonsense’. Turning to the other journalists, Mélenchon asks: ‘Does someone have a question expressed in French, which is comprehensible?’ Days later, Mélenchon sort-of-apologised, saying he thought she’d been taking the mick of his own accent. He can be a deeply unpleasant piece of work.
Journalists from 26 news media outlets (press, radio and TV) gave their ‘total support’ to France Info, France 3 and Mediapart, ‘utterly condemning the outrageous, abusive and threatening comments of Jean-Luc Mélenchon towards the press. These systematic, unfounded attacks only disgrace the person who said them.’
‘Political persecution’ (Mélenchon, October 2018)
Finally, we saw Mélenchon, at his vlog, ‘Taking stock’. Calmly addressing his devoted followers (239,000 blog visits last month) he said he was grateful he still had these means to get his message published. Yet, away from the tranquillity of his mates’ recording device, he quickly reverted to type. At a Euro-Election press conference today, he was asked by a Radio France journalist if he’d appear on one of their programmes to explain the issues. ‘I won’t debate with any of you’, he replied ‘because you’re malicious frauds’.
Then, taking everything to its illogical conclusion, Mélenchon said ‘It’s political persecution when people are treated like terrorists, like big-time gangsters, with 17 properties searched on the same day and 6 Party HQs stormed.’ But he put things in context by reminding everyone ‘This happens in other countries. I’m happy because in Colombia or Mexico I would now be dead. But here I am still alive and answering your questions. Some of you are smiling, that’s really unpleasant.’
On his blog, Mélenchon wrote that they ‘have done none of the things of which they stand accused … It’s political persecution. Unprecedented in our country. Unique in Europe. But I predict that it’s going to be the start of a cycle which comes from the other side of the Atlantic and which is soon going to generalise the criminalisation of the political Opposition, as has already happened for trade union or ecological action. It is intended to destroy us psychologically and politically, both as people and as an organisation. Our individual and collective duty is to resist this political offensive by political action.’
Mélenchon can reflect at leisure on today’s Ipsos Popular Politicians Poll. People are asked their views on 35 politicians, including such old favourites as Sarkozy and Hollande who refuse to lie down and disappear. The events of the last few days fed through quickly. 70% (up 9 points) have an unfavourable view of The Furious Tribune of the People of the Far Left, while 23% have a favourable view (down 7).
This puts Mélenchon in unwelcome company. He shares Ipsos‘s stratosphere of unfavourableness* with
- ex-Socialist PM Valls (seeking fame in Barcelona) – 76% unfavourable
- former right-wing Presidential candidate Fillon (awaiting possible charges on his fake employment of several family members) – 72%
- former President Hollande (still dreaming that the people may call) – 70%
- President Emmanuel Macron – 70%*
- Marine Le Pen (leader of ultra-right, former Front National) – 69%
*I added the President’s name to the list of disfavour (25/10) – apologies for the mistake
‘The Mountain labor’d, groaning loud…When, lo ! a mouse was brought to light!’ (Phaedrus)
The slowest-ever 5th Republic reshuffle was a fortnight in gestation. [Popular daily Le Parisien called it ‘interminable’: they’re almost as hyperbolic as I am.] In the end, except for appointing a Presidential Chum as Interior Minister, one might well feel like asking (as I did in another, earlier context): ‘Is That All There is?”
The reshuffle’s proximate cause was ex-Socialist Interior Minister Collomb (71-year-old political bruiser and Macron’s First Heavyweight Supporter) quitting Government. He wants to be re-elected Lyon’s Mayor, in the 2020 elections, under his own political banner. Collomb’s public vote of lack of confidence in Macron’s Government followed the earlier resignation of Environment Minister (and ex-TV star) Hulot, and coincided with seriously low opinion poll support for Macron.
So this reshuffle might have been thought to be intended as a calculated re-launch of an unpopular Government. Time for some exciting new faces, while getting rid of its near-anonymous dross.
And on the fourteenth day Macron ended his work
But how could 14 long days produce so little? What took them so long? Well, there’d been rumours of disagreements between President and Prime Minister. The theory of Ministerial appointments is that the Premier proposes the names of people to serve in Government and the President accepts/rejects such proposition. Yet, some let it be known in advance they wanted no Governmental post. The days when people signed up blind for Macron’s Magical Mystery Tour have long gone. Radio station RTL claimed (in French) to know of 5 refusals of Ministerial office (eg a former spokesperson of ex-Premier Valls, now seeking a place in the Barça sun as its Mayor [he’s currently last of possible candidates], tweeted ‘I’ll not be part of the next Government’).
So where are we following this round of painfully slow musical political chairs, in which (when the music eventually stopped) 4 Ministers found themselves without chairs, but 8 lucky new names arrived complete with Ministerial chairs:
- gender parity remains (17-17) not counting Prime Minister Philippe; political left(ish)-right(ish) parity remains; politicians/civil society parity remains … and the Government’s even a bit younger (average age 48, down from 51)
- an ex-Socialist ex-Macron-buddy moved out of the Ministry of the Interior … and an ex-Socialist now-Macron-buddy moved in. The new man’s Christophe Castaner (former Macron campaign spokesperson and recent head of the President’s République en Marche Party). Castaner has long salivated over the job of premier flic de France [that’s the go-to newspaper cliché for ‘France’s N° 1 cop’/Interior Minister – in an expression first used in 1906 by Clémenceau]. Because Castaner isn’t known for his expertise in anything remotely Interior Ministry(ish), a heavyweight ex-flic (boss of France’s Internal Security) has Castaner’s back. Should anything be made of the fact that Collomb as Interior Minister was N° 2 in the Government, while Castaner’s plunged to N° 10? Regardless, police and spooks are delighted: their top Minister could hardly be closer to Macron – so ensuring that the money/support tap stays open – while his N° 2 is a professional spook
- the overall politics of the reshuffle is like-for-like changes: so there are now 8 politicians who were once on the left, 6 from the centre-right, 3 from the centre, plus 1 lonely Green(ish) politico
- the outer Regions of France – which feel unloved by the too-metropolitan Macron-Philippe administration (Macron’s tarred as not only President of the Rich, but the Towns too) – have had
homagelip-service paid them by appointing (i) a former Socialist Senator from the south-east (someone else close to Valls) as Agriculture Minister while (ii) the Minister in charge of Relations with Parliament is a hunting enthusiast who knows about agricultural issues
- the now-chairless ex-Culture Minister, Nyssen, returns to her publishing house, and her problems with various local government authorities for having carried out unapproved changes to her offices in historic buildings
- with 35 Ministers in all, 3 more than pre-reshuffle, we’ve moved away from what Candidate Macron used to say about slimming Government down
- the youngest-ever 5th Republic Minister was appointed (29-year-old Young Macron groupie Attal). He’s responsible for one of Candidate Macron’s flagship pledges, Universal National Service (1 compulsory month for 16-year-olds, half of which may be away from home; then a voluntary 3+ months for 25-year-olds in defence/environment/care)
- a Minister was appointed to handle the increasingly difficult relations with local Government around the country, and there’s a ‘Ministry for Territorial Cohesion’ (which sounds marginally more credible in French)
- a former public servant got an Environment Ministry job, having spent 3 years as Danone’s lead lobbyist … nice work for Danone
And how was this reshuffle presented to an underwhelmed nation? Not the traditional means of the Elysée Secretary-General announcing names, surrounded by excited journalists. This time a simple press release indicating (perhaps?) the modest nature of the announcement. But things would get worse.
(Mini) Mea culpa (again)
That evening an extremely sober-faced President appeared on TV. No teleprompt. A typed, visibly much hand-amended, text on his desk. Less-than-adequate lighting making the President’s text more difficult to put over. Obey’s street art (with Fraternité writ super-large) hard by the President’s head. Macron told the nation over 12 ultra-serious minutes there’d be ‘No change of direction’, saying his ‘determination to act has lost none of its intensity’ and, post-reshuffle, is ‘even stronger now’.
He teased us with another semi-apology: ‘The rationale of what I’m doing has been rendered less comprehensible over the last months because, sometimes, my determination, or my straight-talking, may have upset or shocked some people. I understand the criticisms.’
Several journals (reviewing his TV appearance unflatteringly) reminded us that Emmanuel Macron’s self-styled ‘straight-talking’ was ever more identified as arrogance. In September alone, he’d produced all of three quotable, self-harming, phrases:
- ‘Gauls resistant to change”
- the horticulturalist told to ‘cross the road’ to find a job, and
- pensioners who should ‘stop complaining’
The President knew, he assured us, that tangible progress as a result of his reforms was slow a-coming. What a comfort it must have been to each and all when he said: ‘I know there’s impatience and I share it … Your daily lives will progressively improve’.
He recognised he had to ‘rely on all the forces of progress and reform … And that requires that I and the Government both listen and enter into dialogue … In future, local associations, elected representatives throughout the country, and above all the Mayors, who every day are the standard-bearers of the Republic’ will be strongly supported ‘because in these difficult times we need the energy of the entire Nation and all people of goodwill.’ [Evidently, certain President’s Men (and they are, mostly, men) had taken on board that between 2014-2018, in excess of 1000 Mayors had given up their tri-coloured sash of office; that’s an increase of 90% over the previous four years]
But the most remarkable thing about the President’s speech was that he actually seemed ill-at-ease. Never before. He’s the master of the televisual medium, yet there were odd pauses during his address and some very weird hand-movements. What was wrong? Did he know that we’d soon know that he was in the process of wasting a dozen minutes of our lives we could never ever retrieve.
He finished with high-flown rhetoric, referring in increasingly grandiose terms to the 2019 Euro-Elections. Suddenly this seemed much more than just a non-fireside chat: ‘The world is splitting apart … the world is moving towards the extremes and once again is giving ground to nationalism. I don’t accept that. I call on the Government to take … vigorous decisions. I have faith in you, in us, in our country.’
What do you think of it so far? Rubbish
Alleged leader of the Right, Wauquiez, gave an exclusive interview to Le Parisien and, in typically measured tone, denounced the President and all his works. The interview was headlined with the moderate: ‘People are angry. This will end with an explosion.’ He then dismissed the reshuffle: ‘The failure of Emmanuel Macron’s first year isn’t a failure of the people who were there but a failure to produce results [except for] more taxes, more immigration.’ Castaner as Interior Minister? ‘He’s always been soft on Islamism.’
What do the punters think of it?
Ifop‘s monthly poll shows President Macron languishing at a very modest 29% satisfaction (with 35% very dissatisfied). Prime Minister Philippe on the other hand has had quite a boost, gaining 7 points in a month, climbing to 41% satisfied (and only 21% very dissatisfied). Since Macron’s election as President, there’s never been such a wide satisfaction gap between him and his Premier.
Ifop boss, Dabi, concludes this shows that Macron now ‘has the image of a haughty, arrogant President, while [Prime Minister] Philippe appears calm and composed, modest and reassuring’. That’s almost the sort of language that could turn a Premier’s head to dream of greatness being thrust upon them.
That boost to Philippe’s morale was further reinforced by today’s Ifop poll asking for people’s thoughts on what politicians have done:
- Premier Philippe is at 31% favourable (up 5) and 59% unfavourable (down 4)
- President Macron 26% favourable and 70% unfavourable, with only 4% having no opinion – seems everyone knows what they think of the President
- Wauquiez (leader of The Right) 15% favourable … and 23% have no opinion (he’s led the Right for 10 months, but almost a quarter of respondents have no opinion on him. Stunningly awful for Wauquiez)
- Le Pen (leader of the Ultra-Right) 25% favourable
Dirty work at the crossroads
Macron’s summer was upturned by Benalla, the President’s (non-)Bodyguard, when reports appeared of his having beaten up MayDay demonstrators while illegally wearing a police uniform. Newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche revealed that one of the beaten-up demonstrators had a false medical certificate. The certificate, dated 11 May, gave the demonstrator 6 days sick leave because of ‘punches to the chest and stiffness in the cervix’. The quack has now admitted to the police that the certificate was actually signed two months later (on 23 July) when the scandal was all over the papers. Odd business. As for the two demonstrators, they’ll soon be in court for having hurled a jug and an ashtray at the police. A small step for Benalla.