March 2022. Jean-Luc Mélenchon unveils his presidential campaign poster. Slightly forced smile, gaze tilted to the left, the promise is beautiful: “Another world is possible”. On the evening of April 10, the Lider maximo des Insoumis once again failed at the gates of the second round but regained momentum during the legislative elections in June. Nupes, a new alliance of the left of which he is the spearhead, becomes the first political opposition force in the National Assembly. Eighteen months later, the promise of another world was gone. The LFI-PCF-PS-EELV coalition is in a state of brain death, battered by a host of controversies of which only the Insoumis have the patent. Even within LFI, voices like that of Raquel Garrido, yesterday a faithful among the faithful, question Mélenchon’s leadership, accusing him of harming his camp “for perhaps a year”. Who becomes for the first time the most rejected political personality of the French, ahead of Eric Zemmour (Odoxa barometer for Public Senate of October 31).
“From a managerial point of view, there is no one more toxic” than the leader of the Insoumis, deciphers Philippe Moreau Chevrolet, president of the MCBG agency, specializing in communications consulting for managers. In an interview with L’Express, the professor of political communication at Sciences Po gives a precise idea of what you should definitely not reproduce in your daily leadership.
L’Express: His high score in the last presidential election and the mass arrival of the Nupes in the National Assembly have finally established the domination of Jean-Luc Mélenchon on the left. But the repeated verbal provocations – again recently during the Hamas attack against Israel, seem to have dealt a hard blow to his leadership, called into question even in his own movement. What do you think was his biggest strategic mistake?
Philippe Moreau Chevrolet: His biggest strategic error is parliamentary. During the 2022 legislative elections, he had fantastic capital which he was unable to grow. On the contrary, he pushed his troops into permanent verbal escalation. He did not see the effectiveness of Marine le Pen’s strategy. He demonized himself while the president of the RN took the opposite path.
Not having disowned Adrien Quatennens after the slap episode is another mistake. Jean-Luc Mélenchon has favorites that he defends against all odds. In this matter, her greatest fragility remains Sophia Chikirou who is both responsible for her communication, a deputy, in the sights of justice and her former partner. All this reaches the moral standard and gives an image of nepotism. Anyone who wants to embody a left-wing moral figure must try to have some form of personal integrity and not put themselves in a position to be attacked.
A survey carried out after he refused to qualify the Hamas attack as terrorist, however, he indicates that Jean-Luc Mélenchon maintains his leadership on the left. Especially among the most radical base of his electorate. The calculation seems to pay off, right?
Mélenchon’s only goal today is to take power. Everything is subordinated to this goal. And all means are good to achieve it. It’s a big change for him. In 2012 and 2017, he had a very constructed statement. However, the more time passes, the more radical the speeches become, he mainly seeks to capture different types of anger, to agglomerate them and to become their spokesperson because he judges that it is electorally profitable. But his positions on Hamas risk costing him dearly. An election is not just a matter of arithmetic or adding votes, you also have to create a positive dynamic around your person. As it stands, it’s impossible. He has become inaccessible.
In 2022, with Nupes, Jean-Luc Mélenchon succeeded in taking over the left. This alliance seems to have lived… What responsibility does its leadership have in this fiasco?
First of all, we must recognize Jean-Luc Mélenchon as having a real talent for galvanizing people. He managed to build the Left Party, then LFI, to form the Nupes and lead it en masse to the National Assembly, while keeping himself in the background, which is a trait of all populist leaders. This was also the case for Jörg Haider in Austria, or Beppe Grillo in Italy. To maintain their relations with the people, an image of integrity, these leaders refuse to be elected and send others in their place. Jean-Luc Mélenchon really has all the traits of a toxic leader, that is to say an ability to choose people, to use them without too much qualms, while protecting himself. These are leaders who end up being leaders for life, because they have no mandate, no real party and permanent access to the media.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon plays with the fear that he will perhaps no longer be a candidate tomorrow, and that no one could do as well as him in the presidential election (21.95% of the votes in 2022). He did say that he would no longer be a candidate after 2022. There are those who take or pretend to take this statement literally like François Ruffin, and then all those who know that it is false. There remains support for the character, because he is fascinating, he has been refined over the years and electorally he would “work” better than the others. But ask any LFI activist today what the fundamentals of the movement are, they will have a hard time answering you.
What does LFI stand for in 2023? Feminism ? There is the Quatennens affair. Public morality? There is the Chikirou affair. Human rights ? There is the shadow of Hamas and accusations of anti-Semitism. The social ? It faces competition in this area from the RN, which is building credibility at its expense in Parliament. It is normal for François Ruffin and his deputies to seek an alternative. It’s a question of survival for LFI.
“In his leadership, he substituted power for morality. He’s not sure he realizes it himself.”
Faithful from the very beginning like Raquel Garrido and Alexis Corbière ended up distancing themselves…
Jean-Luc Mélenchon adopted a purely emotional language and everything is centered around his personality. It’s very depleting on an intellectual level. Those around him who take a constructive approach therefore end up leaving or being excluded. Even people like Gérard Miller, who nevertheless has a radical discourse, end up distancing themselves because they are not in the inner circle. There is no more space, except for the “fans”, who, like Mathilde Panot, can repeat to the word what they are told to repeat without question.
Is the leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon of 2023 really different from that of 2012 for example?
During the 2012 presidential election, there was an enormous collective momentum behind him, his communicators were organized in a cooperative, there were photographers, designers, volunteers, other incarnations, another group dynamic. Today, we are in a courtesan attitude, which was not its initial positioning. Basically, he ended up reproducing at LFI the functioning of the executive of the Fifth Republic with an all-powerful boss, people who gravitate around, shadow advisors, and when there is a crisis, we ” assume”, we stand up, we deny the existence of the crisis and we show a certain contempt towards the people who attack. This is very surprising for someone who has always called for an end to what he describes as the “bad Republic”. In his leadership, he substituted power for morality. He is not certain that he realizes it himself.
How does his leadership differ from that of Marine Le Pen or Emmanuel Macron, his two main rivals?
Jean-Luc Mélenchon has leadership very close to that of Emmanuel Macron, a solitary and centralized operation, with a weak entourage, essentially people who are there to repeat his message. But Jean-Luc Mélenchon lacks Emmanuel Macron’s capacity for seduction. He had it to begin with. But his driving force became anger. Marine Le Pen has more constructive management, she puts forward a number two, Jordan Bardella, who himself has found his place, which would be impossible at LFI. She gained maturity when we thought she was finished. She managed to bring together a certain number of intellectuals around her like Jérôme Sainte-Marie, and that makes all the difference. It is often the impoverishment of those around them that ends up killing leaders. If you only have people around you who are in awe or fear, there is no one left to tell you if you are wrong. And inevitably after a while, you hit the wall.