Sunday, 12 February 2012

Jean-Luc Mélenchon: My favourite French left-wing ‘firebrand’

Jean-Luc 'you are dead meat lady' Mélenchon
Ah you have to hand it to good old Jean-Luc. If future historians ever draw up a top-ten list of French politicians of the 2000's who knew how to grab the headlines he would surely be in the top three. 

Mélénchon was a member of the Parti Socialiste for years and was mostly to be found on the fringes of the party as a member of one dissident group or another. He did however get himself appointed as a minor minister in Jospin’s cohabitation government and he kept that post for two years, from 2000 to 2002. That has been just about the only time he has ever toed any party line to any great extent.

But he became disenchanted with the socialists in 2008 and left to found the Parti de Gauche before declaring himself a candidate for May’s presidential election under the banner Front de Gauche.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon is nothing if not controversial and his abrasive character and unconventional views have resulted in him managing the extraordinary feat of not only alienating everyone on the right – that’s only normal - but on the left too.

He disagrees with everyone from the Communists to socialist candidate François Hollande, and the latter will not have appreciated Mélenchon’s reaction to him being selected as a candidate. “Why choose” asks Mélenchon “a pedal boat captain like Hollande when we are entering the stormy season?” 

His most furious invective however has been directed at right-wing party the Front Nationale, and its leader, Marine le Pen. In typically hyperbolic style, he claims she is “Hitler’s heir”, and the extent of his disdain for her ideas is summed up by his colourfully-worded claim that she has “the Dracula effect”, which, he says, is why taking her policies apart is like switching on a light – they all crumble to dust and disappear. Brilliant! And I agree.

It will come as no surprise to anyone in those circumstances that he attracts so much fierce criticism in the right-of-centre media that he has a visceral dislike of mainstream journalists, and French Television’s David Pujadas is his principal bugbear, or should I say one of them. Pujadas once interviewed a trade unionist during the evening news and Mélenchon can be seen watching it. So incensed is he at Pujadas’ questioning that his face contorts into a vicious snarl of disgust and he calls him a ‘flunky’ and a ‘bastard/son of a bitch.’ Not that that’s the first time he has used those kinds of epithets to designate his targets. This man takes no prisoners.

I could relate many other, similar, stories but suffice it to say that he has been involved in so many scandals around the use of words like ‘vichy’, ‘nazi’ ‘facist’ and others that it’s difficult to count them all.

So much for his way of doing business, but what policies would he implement if ever he were to be elected president?

As a general policy line, he advocates what he calls a ‘citizen’s revolution.’ The idea generally involves taking over all the banks and financial institutions and taxing the rich to the hilt. Not particularly original – after all, comment threads in the press are full of people with names like ‘Kill Capitalism’ and ‘Boycott The Banks’ who advocate the same angle – but it is certainly, how can I put it, striking in its ardor.

Concerning industry delocalisation and offshoring, he would requisition companies which announced their intention to delocalise. This policy would be part of a package which would include the heavy taxation of any delocalised product imported from abroad which is made by French companies in France and which cost more. He seems to be confident that foreign companies would continue to invest in France under those conditions. Well, it is his campaign after all and not mine.

Finally, he proposes to ban the use of words like ‘black’ and ‘arab’ to describe people. All descriptions of people which use defining words for race, colour, origins and other categories would become illegal. Why? No idea, but that he should come up with an idea like that doesn’t surprise me, and that’s probably because nothing he could ever dream up up with would surprise me.

In other words, Jean-Luc Mélenchon is a man I love to hate, my nemesis, my bogeyman if you will. Yet I’d hate to see him leave politics and he would be a great loss to French political life. Love him or loath him, characters like Mélenchon brighten up politics, be they on the right or the left of the spectrum. He is someone who, if he didn’t exist, would have to be invented.

Oh, and could we see him in the Elysée in three months' time? With vote intention polls giving him about 6% of the vote that is highly unlikely. But just imagine what it would be like if it happened. He’d make Sarkozy’s “casse-toi pauvre con” remark look like a declaration of love….

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