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The audit of a political campaign versus Marine Le Pen: Jean-Luc Melenchon in Henin-Beaumont

After a strong showing in the 2012 French Presidential election, Jean-Luc Melenchon took on Marine Le Pen in Henin-Beaumont, a former mining community near the northern town of Lille, in the French legislative elections held in the same year. These were his thoughts as expressed in his popular blog on coming third in the first round.

Introduction 

Jean-Luc Melenchon said that his decision to run against Le Pen was personal (he came fourth behind Le Pen in the presidential election and was not looking for political office as he is an MEP) and that he wanted people to regard the election as a "national election", since local issues and problems are not per se "local", but all have a national, European and international overtone. 

The role of an MP, he argued, from an a-typical viewpoint that can nevertheless be traced back to the French revolution, was not to take care of micro-local issues (town councillors can do this) but to make the laws in parliament for the whole of the national community. He said he wanted to address himself to the "hearts and minds" of the Henin-Beaumont population, believing that politicisation was the only antidote against the rise of the Front National.

Some five years ago, Marine Le Pen, who is not from the region, decided to try her luck in the constituency. The Front National has secured results above its national average in this constituency over the past ten years. An increasing number of working-class voters have been supporting the FN. 

Henin-Beaumont is part of the Pas-de-Calais constituency. A former mining area, it has a high unemployment rate and a sizeable young and foreign population (many from Maghreb). The area historically has been a bastion of the left. The socialists have been in power in this region since the 1930s, their management marred however by a series of corruption cases. The Communist Party, with some presence in Henin-Beaumont, supported Melenchon as part of the Left Front, an electoral coalition comprising several left-wing parties. There has been a longstanding agreement that candidates running third in the first round of the parliamentary election elected on a first-past-the-post system, would stand aside to give a better placed candidate a clear run. In Henin-Beaumont, after June 17, either the governing Socialists or Mr Melenchon would progress alone to the second round. 

Melenchon launched an active campaign on the ground that combined big rallies and small meetings with the population. His team prepared "one political event a day" in the constituency’s towns. The main themes of his campaign were: "The bankers are the problem, not immigrants"; he praised France's multi-ethnic background; he prioritized problems of unemployment and outsourcing; he argued that austerity policies are not French problems, but European ones. This was part of a campaign across France in support of other candidates of the Left Front and alongside Alexis Tsipras, the leader of Syriza in Greece. 

In the event, Melenchon came third, leaving his Socialist rival to battle and narrowly defeat Marine Le Pen in the second round. Here we translate the comments of the Left Front leader on the failed campaign, picking up his blog on June 13, three days after the first round of the elections and four days before the second round. Readership figures for Jean-Luc Melenchon’s blogs range on average between 20,000 and 50,000 readers, though some have reached twice this number. This selection has been compiled and translated for openDemocracy by Tristan Summerscale.

June 13

I’m in the limelight at the moment, what with the hysteria of the right regarding my links to Mikis Theodorakis and a certain reading of my performance in the Henin Beaumont by election. The latter is also the reason for the deluge of tracts and anonymous letters I’ve received in the last week. I’m therefore going to have to give my opinion on these matters. I’m going to talk about the elections in general. Then about the election in the 11th constituency of the Pas-de-Calais where I was a candidate. You are going to learn some juicy stuff. I’m going to throw out an alert. Victory is not assured against Madame Le Pen in spite of the arrogance of the socialists. I’m therefore repeating my solemn appeal to Martine Aubry and Jean-Marc Ayrault, who came to campaign against me in the first round, to join us for the second round and throw their weight against Le Pen.

This first round of the legislative election has not been at all glorious. A massive abstention rate distorts the vote and produces the ‘deflated joy’ that I referred to regarding the atmosphere on the night of the presidential results. In 1981, electoral participation was at 70%. The most ridiculous thing is the vote from French people living abroad. The MPs will be elected with less than 20% of the electorate represented. Elsewhere, across the nation once again, abstention runs along class lines, according to different areas and polling booths. Once again low-life commentators bluster about ‘the voting fatigue of the French’ and so forth. It’s only by a whisker that here or there, a more political viewpoint gets through. The Catholic daily newspaper, The Cross, observes that the polarisation of political life makes it more like a vice than a choice, dissuading those who know at the outset that they are not going to be represented at the end of the process. And it is worth asking, as they do, “what is left for voters if they don’t feel they are represented at the Elysee or in parliament?” Regarding ourselves, Antoine Fouchet, in the same paper says as prominently as page two, “Without a group in parliament, Jean-Luc Melenchon will seek more than ever to create a force devoted to the insurrection of the citizenry”.

At any rate, it is true, more or less, that this is what I, alongside the leadership of the Parti de Gauche, intend to put forward as a proposal to the whole party at its next congress. We are participating in the current charade, and we respect the conclusion of that charade because we are republicans and we submit to the rule of law and the constitution as long as the people have not changed it themselves. Having said that, it would be a grave error to expect anything other than what we’ve seen already. That is to say, a gross denial of democracy. Think on it: If we were represented in the Assembly in a way that was proportionate with our performance in the presidential election, then we would have 64 seats. If it was in proportion with the votes we gained in this first round run-off then there would be 43 Front du Gauche MPs! We know what will happen instead. Particularly when the dominant party, the Parti Socialiste, devotes its energies to trying to crush its partners in order to have an absolute majority. Why would they do that? To be certain of quashing all forms of debate on the decisions that come down from on high! But this debate will take place, and far sooner than the great and the good think it will. It will happen in a different place and in a different way because we have no other choice.

I have noted the quantity of press commentaries regarding the legislative elections in the Pas-de-Calais constituency that are of a level of pathological stupidity that I cannot bring myself to deal with! The intellectual laziness of the average member of the ‘media circus’, the palpable triumphalist glee to be found in the likes of Le Parisien and L’Express, has all piled up into a hateful, indigestible sandwich. They supply a weight of literary output which obscures the very facts it claims to elucidate. The study of an electoral result should start with a study of the figures. So hold on tight. This is what you need to know, and what you won’t read under the byline of any of the ‘analysts’ that saturate the media machine.

Firstly in this constituency, Le Pen picked up her votes from the presidential election. There has therefore been no ‘breakthrough’ of the National Front in this location. Abstention is the reason behind the difference in scores between the two elections. This time the local right of centre party has lost 12,000 votes and fifteen points. The electoral material of the UMP-Modem makes no mention of a candidate’s party. The voting slips bore only the candidates’ names. In these conditions, Mrs Le Pen was practically the group candidate of the right in the first round. Nevertheless, she only progressed by 0.8%! Where is the ‘breakthrough’? Where is the ‘triumph’? Saying so isn’t minimising the danger posed, far from it. I think it is extreme, as Le Pen has strengthened her platform. The left’s is not as strong.

Secondly, as for me, I gained a thousand votes and five points. In 8 out of 14 boroughs I was the leading left wing candidate. More than half. And this, having arrived three weeks earlier as a challenger, 15 points behind the two leaders. There you see the size of my ‘defeat’, that has been broadcast all over. The socialist ticket has only beaten me thanks to the votes won from the two cities where the incumbent and his deputy are mayor. Anyway, our campaign, so derided, has allowed us to be at the forefront of the left in Hénin-Beaumont, a city that has been badly let down by the socialists. It also permits me, in a socialist borough, to lead the ‘march’ that we organised in honour of Emilienne Mopty [local French resistance fighter and a communist]! A ‘provocative’ march according to the craven weaklings of the ‘intelligent Parti Socialiste’.

The Socialist Party has for its part lost 8000 votes and 8 points compared to Hollande’s results in the presidential election! A collapse that escaped the attention of the ‘commentators ’. Le Parisien, with a little tear of joy in the corner of its eye, had the title, ‘The Kemel surprise’. A loss of eight thousand votes on the left! That’s a lovely surprise for a right-leaning publication. And Philippe Kemel has not restrained himself in calling for Francois Hollande. He even confirmed that he ‘personally’ knew the new French president! This might have helped to undermine the credulity of the socialist voters that remembered that he supported Aubry in the first round of the leadership election. The worst thing to come out of it is that Le Pen made her biggest gains in the socialist candidate’s borough. She progressed there by 29%. You read that right. The greatest Le Pen gains were made in the borough of the man who accused me of helping to further the cause of the ‘extreme right’. This is my ultimate refutation of the unworthy accusations made against me on the subject by the Prime MInister and Martine Aubry when they visited us before the first run off!

In this situation, I think it’s important that socialists are electorally united, having been severely divided in this region over the cheating in the nominations. We can’t say that’s all in the past - as the Le Canard Enchaîné summed up effectively pretty recently - just four days before the first-round vote! But the socialist candidate needs to be more dynamic. Phiippe Kemel refused to debate with Mrs Le Pen on France 3 between the two election rounds. This is a mistake. He appears to be fearfully defensive. What’s he afraid of? To have to reply to the accusations made in the book Rose Mafia 2[i] which Mrs Le Pen has been making hay with. He prefers to dodge the issue. It’s a big mistake! My opinion is that one must always argue against Le Pen. Take on what she says rather than naively assume that her lies will just disappear into the ether of their own accord.

We’re carrying on with our work. But if we take a place at the front of the podium, will we be taken seriously after what has been said about us by the socialist establishment? Mrs Le Pen will be able to have her fun at our expense and enjoy the role she has been handed on a plate once again. It would be a sure route to a sub-par performance. I did warn people that the bad manners of the socialist leadership in the first round would play against us in the second round, whoever won amongst the leftist parties, and here we are! That’s why I believe that the impetus has to come from the highest levels of the socialist hierarchy now. Marine Aubry and Jean-Marc Ayrault must come back to the constituency! Their presence is necessary. It is they alone who can give a sense of purpose to the socialist campaign in the second round. I know full well that in the first round the entire focus of this election for the socialists was to eliminate me. But things have moved on. We need to take stock of the danger. The two socialist leaders need to be here instead of attending the candidacy launch of Ségolène who didn’t need it and only got a political backlash as a result. Aubry would have been far more use in her own region, in the front line of the struggle, alongside the candidate that needs to maintain our electoral challenge.

The situation in the area is dangerous. Our people are mobilising. But it’s not easy anywhere. On the subject of the socialist candidate, the newspaper Le Parisien tells us, “There are whispers that his relations with local communists have not always been very amicable, which could have some ramifications”. These “whispers” are in fact well known facts. A sort of doe-like shyness must have come over the newspaper not to explain this. Or perhaps ‘journalism by telephone’ did not enable them to find out more. In fact the socialist candidate won his borough by winning it off the communists...  in alliance with the right. What a unifying choice he is!

But doubtless the socialist leadership think that it’s in the bag already, and by a comfortable margin! That’s what the polls said before the first round, isn’t it? And that’s what the ‘only candidate who can beat Madame Le Pen’ repeated over and over. He can’t help it. There is no doubt on the subject! So we must not let down our guard. Our comrades are mobilising in the area. Me too, in spite of the contempt with which I have been treated. On Friday, as soon as I am back from Strasbourg, I will be in the area. I will campaign personally and publicly, engaging the local press in the region. We must bar Le Pen’s path. This has been our whole aim since the beginning. The socialists scorn us? So what! Our commitment is not to making them happy but to attain our goals. Amongst these objectives is the desire to stop the far right from getting into parliament. The socialists’ behaviour must not stop us from achieving those goals.

During the first round, in Arras and in Henin-Beaumont, the sky has been unrelentingly lead grey, with no let-up. The humid air was chilly and sticky at the same time! I ask myself where the month of June went. How many times now have we seen an unusual start to the summer? Why is it still so cold? Once again, just like the day after the first round of the presidential election, fatigue has fallen on my shoulders as though it were a wall falling on my back. But this time the horizon of effort is lifting. One return journey to Strasbourg, one return journey to Henin-Beaumont, one election night and I will be able to take a break. The first in how many weeks? I’ve forgotten how many, just to avoid thinking about it. The road has been a long one! For this Saturday is an anniversary. One year ago exactly, the communists selected me as their candidate for the presidential election. So I have been campaigning for a year without a break. In truth, it’s even longer than that, if I stick to the official dates. Was it not in January that the Parti de Gauche chose me, and in February it was the Gauche Unitaire? But in what year was this? 2011! So about a century ago! Anyway, since there has been an election every year since the Parti de Gauche was created in November 2008, I feel like my feet haven’t touched the ground since then.

And my telephone has been ringing off the hook! In all one’s endeavours it’s important to have both a method and goals. My aim therefore was to reply to all of them. It was hard work. However, I would be lying if I gave the impression that we were only talking about messages of encouragement and solidarity. On the phone, yes. But what a field day the press are having! When the result came out, the usual chorus of backstabbers suddenly turned out to be  old ‘friends of thirty years standing’, ‘members of the socialist leadership’ and even ‘communists’, when they are not ‘close associates’. But who are they? They all travel under the seal of secrecy and anonymity. Why? What risk are they taking? Why would a journalist agree to publish an anonymous source when the source’s revelation has no risk whatsoever other than personal humiliation. When the socialist journalist, Philippe Martinat, wrote about me what I’m about to mention, you can see the sort of game he’s playing: “‘If Marine Le Pen is elected next Sunday, he [Melenchon] will of course be partly to blame for having given her a platform”’ expostulates a socialist MP’. What MP? Why not say which one? It’s a rather banal opinion isn’t it? Why proffer it in secret? What sort of journalism is this? In actual fact, it’s pure invention by a militant journalist who is spreading his own agenda under the cover of a so-called anonymous source. As for the content of what he’s saying, I might respond with the words of another journalist, Pierre Marcelle, writing in Liberation. Accusing me of being responsible for legitimating Le Pen, as Martine Aubry did before Philippe Martinat? It’s like accusing firemen of legitimating fire!

Nothing is more dubious than the testimony of these so-called anonymous witnesses. But it might be rather different when it comes to the ‘old friends’. Who knows? These guys do exist. Placemen, wandering around like empty ghosts from a bygone age, their media personalities existing solely to inflict a wound on me whenever the media beast wants to taste blood and tears. The former ‘close associate’ serves to provide cover for the perfidies and outrages of all these hostile quills with a spikiness that masks the venomous character of their writing. Thus, alongside the anonymous letters are the ‘anonymous witnesses’ of the press. As inscrutable as the former, they rot all that remains stable and noble in political life - real friendships and incorruptible companions. These ones have very much got into gear since Sunday evening.

Messages of sympathy have flown in. They touch me. I vary my responses as much as possible. But the idea stays the same fundamentally, when I get back to the core of it. The job was done, and well done. Further, I don’t want hatred against socialist leaders who treated us in this unworthy fashion to become a political strategy. The Parti Socialiste is a burnt out star. What we can see is a residual stump of an electoral force without any consistent dynamism. Everything holds together with the glue of the tactical vote and other silliness of that sort. None of this is the beginning of a coherent offensive: nor is it a vision of the future. It is radically unsuited to tackling the crisis which is coming in terms of being a party capable of organising popular action. Hearing how they speak to people is a good indicator in itself. Alongside the hateful, haughty and contemptuous tones of someone like Bartolone, there’s the viciousness of Christophe Borgel who intones constantly about “mobilisation doing the left good”, having just organised the failure of his allies in the Green party as surely as his rivals in the Front de Gauche, just before delivering another outrageously mendacious remark: “If we get an absolute majority this will mean more elected representatives for the greens and the Front de Gauche”. After this, does it surprise you that we are having more and more trouble in making the arguments for the famed republican discipline among progressives? A justified resentment at all this is brewing on all sides. But this anger won’t lead to an effective strategy.

For our task cannot be undertaken if we let ourselves get mired in recriminations with the Parti Socialiste. On the contrary, it is incumbent on us to be on the front foot creating, being dynamic, conquering, beyond their reach, without taking them into account or even mentioning them. In order to do this job well, we absolutely must not pay attention to them. The goal is to gain support and respect with those groups that interest us and that are the lynchpin of our committed struggle. We will prevail with positive action! Not settling scores with the narrow-minded group of socialists that are immersed in socialist career plans. As we have just seen, this is how we have scored points everywhere our candidates have run. I’m talking about points on the scoresheet that matters to us, not the one that matters to others. This is how we ran in Hénin-Beaumont.

I feel content in a way that one always does when a job has been well done. Everything we did was accomplished within the rules of the game. The distribution of pamphlets, public meetings and so on. Everything. And not in vain. As I said, we won a thousand votes and eight points, since the presidential election. Compared with the previous legislative election we won six thousand votes here. As people have said to me: I did not come for nothing. Let’s measure the effort we put forth to get to our final result. I’ve already spoken about facts and figures in terms of the results of our electoral activity. But on top of that there is our renaissance as a political force in the area. I’m not saying that we were extinct. That wasn’t the case. The existing communist base never relinquished the territory altogether. But my arrival and the galvanisation created by the game that was under way reinvigorated a collective dynamic which has permeated society throughout numerous sectors. For me this is the essential thing. 

The threat posed by the extreme right will not be seen off in an instant or just through an electoral campaign. It is going to get worse, with the free passage accorded it by the neo-Le-Penism of the media. This, in my view, is just a consequence of the fact that the whole spectrum has jumped to the right and that this has been accepted by a growing number of commentators that approve of this evolution. As soon as we slide down this slope, the true believers will be joined by weaker characters for whom it’s impossible to avoid following a sort of middle line, regardless of the actual content of what is being said. It’s the group that says “five minutes for the executioner, five minutes for the victim, and then everyone has had an equitable role”. The golden rule, “on one side, and on the other” - and a hatred of Muslims replacing the hatred of Jews which has rotted the previous generation. That is the average unspoken doctrinal basis of the group that wants to “win hearts and minds”. The heredity is so marked that simple electoral events that get the blood racing are not treated as such by those who pride themselves on their analytical prowess. And there you have it. 

I said that our socialist rival lost eight thousand votes and five points. This didn’t unduly concern him, if I believe what I read in the Voix du Nord. When they found out that I had conceded our second place, the hall of socialists exulted, “We beat Méluche!”. It’s clear to see that I was their adversary. But where did those eight thousand votes that the socialists lost since the presidential election go? Let us suppose that it’s from there that I won my thousand extra votes. There are seven thousand missing. Where are they? No one has asked them. The right lost twelve thousand. Where are they? No one is asking them either. Why was there no mention of the UMP or Modem on the electoral literature of their joint candidate. From the beginning it’s as if the right was absent, pushing its abandoned voters into the arms of Mrs Le Pen. Look for any trace of this in the press. There is none. How come I have been the sole target of anonymous letters distributed in the area without a single word of support from local or national socialists speaking out against such practices? Why is it not being discussed anywhere? What was the positive impact for the National Front caused by the publication of Rose Mafia three days before the vote? And the interview on this theme on France 3 given by the awful Dalongeville, the former mayor of Henin-Beaumont, who is at the root of this whole catastrophe? Nothing, not a trace of this in the sensationalist fiction-mongering spun around my ‘defeat’. What impact did the solicitous attentions paid to Marine Le Pen by David Pujadas on the 8 oclock news make that encouraged her to say that I was chasing the ‘ethnic vote’? A collusive establishment culture means that these things are never addressed.

Of course we must take into account coincidence, amateurishness, lack of professionalism in all of these things being left unsaid. Of course we must take into account the effect of the media circus, of the crowd that only came out on the Friday, market day, to ‘observe’ what was completely eclipsed from view thanks to this very crowd of photographers and television cameras. Of course we must take into account that they copy each other without any talent or curiosity. Of course we must take into account that none of this is true in any case.

But there is still a common link between all of these silences that neglect all of these issues and all of these questions that demand a response. With my ‘defeat’ what is essential has been rescued, according to a compliant media set-up: the reds have been defeated. The rest is of little importance in their eyes, apparently.

I will therefore gladly take the advice Francois Mitterrand once gave me: don’t read the press. In fact, whatever appetite I have for it, I’ll protect myself in this way from the sadness that is instilled in me when I see the blindness to and the morbid fascination with Mrs Le Pen. It’s to go down the same shabby path as Drieu la Rochelle and other prominent intellectuals, and we all know how that ended. We’re seeing another collapse of the elite unfold before our eyes. But we can’t just stand around waiting for this to disappear. And in my view, it is at its most pernicious now, in these times we are living through.

Marine Le Pen lost the second round of the Hénin-Beaumont election by 118 votes. She is contesting the result. Her sister Marion became the youngest French MP in modern history when she won a seat in the Vaucluse. This represented one of two victories for the National Front in the election, their first seats since 1986.


[i] Rose Mafia 2 is a book by Gérard Dalongeville, former mayor of Henin-Beaumont, and Martin Leprince, a correspondent at the regional paper Nord Eclair. Dalongeville was faced with corruption charges in 2009 and later made his own allegations about widespread corruption amongst socialist officials in the Pas de Calais region. He published these in his book Rose Mafia. When his version of events was called into question, Dalongeville enlisted Leprince in writing an independent 'inquiry' into the truth behind the allegations - Rose Mafia 2.  

About the author

Jean-Luc Mélenchon was a cabinet minister in Lionel Jospin's government (2000-02) as well as a member of the French Senate (1986-2009). He was a long-time executive member of the Socialist Party (1977-2008). He left the PS in 2008 and created the Left Party which is part of a wider electoral coalition, the Left Front. This umbrella organisation is similar to Syriza in Greece and works closely with Die Linke in Germany. In May 2012, Jean-Luc Mélenchon ran for the French presidency. In the first round of the election, he secured 11.1% of the share of the votes nationally (over 4 million votes). Since 2009, Mélenchon has been an MEP. 



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