Jeremy Corbyn is promising to forge closer ties with his French counterpart Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leader of the hard-left La France Insoumise party. The pair met at the Labour conference in Liverpool, and some commentators have hailed the start of a beautiful partnership.
The conceit is that this pair of pensioners are together somehow the future of European socialism. Well, Corbyn might become Britain’s prime minister for all I know, although I prefer to doubt it. But should there be any doubt whatsoever on the corollary subject, I am able to assert with absolute confidence that there is a better chance that the French would elect me than Mélenchon.
He has been taken more seriously of late after some polls found him to be seen as Emmanuel Macron’s strongest opponent. But Corbynites rejoicing at this should know that such polls are a consequence of Macron’s plunge as he dives into conflict with the nationalised industries and the 5.8 million-strong civil service. He finished fourth in the first round of last year’s presidential election and there is no conceivable credible scenario in which he can do better. The arithmetic of the French presidential system is brutal and Mélenchon can never win, no more than can Marine Le Pen, while it is hard to see how Macron will lose. Mélenchon’s list for the European Parliament is currently polling at 12.5 per cent. Mélenchon doesn’t even want to win, I suspect. By 2022 he will be less relevant than ever. He knows it would be hard work and he’d be blamed for everything.
The daily Libération loved the Corbyn-Mélenchon bro-love. It reported that the two men conversed in Spanish when they met on Merseyside, since Mélenchon speaks no English and Corbyn no French. So that was very nice, I guess, given that they are both obsessed with Bolivarian revolutions of one sort or another, and big fans of Chávez, Fidel, etc. They posed for photographs and tweeted their mutual admiration. The name of Bernie Sanders was evoked.
Corbyn probably believes all the para-Communist guff, whereas there is precious little evidence that Mélenchon believes in anything other than touring the TV studios while enjoying the fruits of his extravagant pay and rations. After a lifetime in public service, he lives in a €2 million flat in Paris with a fine art collection. He has a country house, too, and until recently he dyed his hair. He is geographically ungrounded, currently representing Marseille, where he was parachuted into one of his movement’s safe seats. Nobody really listens to him. The unions don’t much like him. When he attempted to rally the ‘-workers’ to oppose Macron’s railway reforms, it was mainly Antifa who showed up.
Mélenchon is a career socialist hack who rose from a conseil municipal via a regional government sinecure to eventually achieve the ungiddy height of senator. He was never more than a minor minister, then only briefly. Hollande gave him no job at all. La France Insoumise has never been more than a personality cult and coalition of people who hate each other.
Where Corbyn is an ideologue who may never have read anything other than Régis Debray, Mélenchon attempts to appear cultivated. While his speeches are detached from reality, as he tries to link the fate of France to Cuba, and his tailored Mao suits simply absurd, his words are at least delivered in sequiturs, unlike those of Corbyn. I know very few supporters of Mélenchon but when I phoned one friend who had been fanatical about him 18 months ago, he practically spat out his disappointment at all the wasted fine words, meaning nothing, as les Insoumis sink into irrelevance.
The polls showing President Macron slumping to historic lows may have given the impression that Mélenchon is a contender, and that he might take off as Corbyn has but Mélenchon’s party is going nowhere, being entirely built around the hardly dynamic cult of its leader and vague, woolly references to an eco-future that would please the left-greens. He is both for and against the EU, silent on Brexit and too busy preening himself to be taken seriously. But this means even less when les Insoumis have 17 members in the 577-member national assembly and just one MEP.
Good luck, Jeremy, with your new pal. Mélenchon is an obsolete politician who has never played in the big time and never will. Their meeting has the enduring relevance of a tweet.
This article was originally published in The Spectator magazine.