How Jordan Bardella became France’s far-right poster boy

Author: Editors Desk, Lara BULLENS Source: France 24
June 21, 2024 at 06:16
Jordan Bardella poses for a selfie with supporters during a campaign rally for the European elections in Montbeliard, eastern France, March 22, 2024. © Patrick Hertzog, AFP
Jordan Bardella poses for a selfie with supporters during a campaign rally for the European elections in Montbeliard, eastern France, March 22, 2024. © Patrick Hertzog, AFP

With a charismatic blend of youthful vigour and strategic communication, far-right leader Jordan Bardella has captivated millions on social media, a sign of the "Bardella mania" that has swept through France’s younger demographic. At just 28, Bardella's ascent to the top of the National Rally party formerly led by Marine Le Pen and Macron's call for snap legislative elections may well pave the road to the prime minister's office. 

With a distant glance to the horizon, his perfectly combed hair backlit by soft sunlight and his uniform of crisp white button-up shirt, far-right leader Jordan Bardella’s profile picture on social media has seduced millions of followers.

“He is not only handsome, but he is intelligent too!” reads a comment underneath a June 19 TikTok post. “Mr. Bardella, I’m 17 years old and you give me hope that you can change things for our country. I used to be more of a leftist and I think I want to put my trust in you,” reads another.

With Bardella as its poster boy, the French far-right National Rally (RN) party knocked President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist alliance out of the woods with double as many votes during the June 9 European elections. The monumental loss prompted Macron to take a shock decision and call snap parliamentary elections, the final vote for which will take place on July 7.  As a result, Bardella has been chosen by the RN to be its candidate for prime minister. To add pressure to an already tense situation, the young party leader has also said he would not accept the job if the party and its allies do not win an absolute majority of at least 289 seats.

From university drop-out to potential premiership, the young politician has stunned many with his meteoric rise in recent years.


A modest man

Born in the poor Seine-Saint-Denis area northeast of Paris in 1995, Bardella grew up in the eighth floor of a drab high-rise tower. Predominantly raised by his single mother, both of his parents come from mixed immigrant backgrounds. His mother’s family immigrated to France from Italy in the 1960s and his paternal grandmother from Algeria in the 1930s.

And Bardella has not hesitated to use his modest background to set him apart from the more established and traditional politicians France is used to.

Many of the country’s presidents, premiers and industry leaders are graduates of the elite Ecole Nationale d’Administration (ENA), including President Emmanuel Macron. Bardella on the other hand never graduated from his degree in geography at the publicly funded Paris Sorbonne University, opting to focus on politics instead.

“He is the real thing,” said Dr. Joseph Downing, a senior lecturer at Aston University in the UK who specialises in French politics. “I think that kind of authenticity is the sort of thing people like Donald Trump try to ape.”

“He is not a divisive figure, [and] he has not come through the established pathway either. I think that is something that impresses a lot upon both young and old French people,” Downing explains.  

His background, however, is not entirely seeped in deprivation. His father was financially comfortable and ran a drinks distribution business in Montmorency, a wealthy town some 17km north of Paris.

And a young Bardella did not attend the local public high school in his area but opted for a semi-private Catholic education instead, the “only establishment in Saint-Denis where a teacher was not at risk of having a chair thrown at their head”, he told French daily Le Monde in an article published on June 2.Still, he rose in the ranks of politics at meteoric speed. An avid admirer of far-right leader Marine Le Pen, Bardella joined the National Front party at the tender age of 16. He lends his decision to join the political ranks of the far-right to his modest upbringing. “Like many families who live in the neighbourhood [I grew up in], I was confronted with violence at an early age and saw how my mum had difficulty making ends meet,” he said in an April 4 interview on the France 2 television channel. “That is where I forged my first political convictions,” he explained.

Bardella went on to become head of the National Rally (called National Front at the time) federation in Seine-Saint-Denis, his home department, before being elected regional councilor for the Ile-de-France region in 2015, aged just 20.

After the presidential election in September 2017 and shortly after being introduced to Le Pen, he became one of the party's spokespersons and immediately joined the national office. Two years later, Le Pen asked her protégé to head the party candidate list for the European elections – which the National Rally won, making Bardella an MEP.

And then, in 2022, Le Pen let her “lion cub” take over as president of the National Rally party.

“The National Rally is not what is was 30 years ago,” said Downing, referring to the deep-seated reputation of racism and homophobia that has plagued the party at the time its founder Jean-Marie Le Pen was at its helm.

“Marine Le Pen has done a great job of pulling the party to the centre,” he explained, “[And] Bardella is 100 percent contributing to softening the image of the party.”


Bardella mania

Much of that softening is happening on social media, where Bardella has reached a critical mass of young voters. The 28-year-old has a hefty fan base of about 1.6 million followers on TikTok, with another 747,000 to boot on Instagram.

His profiles are mostly peppered with short clips cut from TV interviews or debates, but many show him embracing Marine Le Pen, taking selfies with supporters and getting hyped up behind the scenes of a broadcast appearance.

But the self-proclaimed “man of his time” has also adopted the humour used in memes, and even makes short clips mocking Macron supporters. One video on his TikTok profile shows a woman handing out flyers for Macron’s Renaissance party ahead of the European elections, only to have two young men abruptly respond “Bardella” before walking away briskly. The video freezes, turns grey and the lyrics “hello darkness my old friend” from Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” are heard playing in the background.

Ahead of the European elections, Bardella told French radio France Inter on June 5 that his party had “invested a lot in social media” as a way to attract young voters, and that he was trying to “politicise young people” as much as possible. For each appearance the 28-year-old makes in public or on television, his community manager and personal photographer shadow him – ensuring he can carefully construct the behind-the-scenes content that he shares with his followers on Instagram or TikTok.

With Bardella as its poster boy, the National Rally garnered 26 percent of votes from under 25s for the 2024 European elections compared to 15 percent in 2019, according to polling by Ipsos. And with a quarter of those who get their news from social media being younger than 35, according to the French Regulatory Authority for Audiovisual and Digital Communication (Arcom), it is no surprise his young fans have fallen for a phenomenon now known locally as “Bardella mania”.

“He is attractive to young voters because he himself is young,” said Downing. “People see him as this kind of renegade that could step outside of a very rigid [political system].”

During a National Rally meeting in Paris on June 2, with stage lights raving to the sounds of artists like Sean Paul and LMFAO, swarms of young supporters gathered to see Bardella.



“It is my first meeting. I wanted to see what it was like and above all, I wanted to see Jordan Bardella,” an enthused Lucie told FRANCE 24. “He is eloquent and knows how to talk to young people in words they understand … And he is handsome,” she added with an embarrassed smile.

When the young politician finally made his way on stage to make his speech, his address was often interrupted by women screaming “Jordaaaaaaan! We love youuuu!” as though they were at a concert.

Though his charisma on- and off-line has won the hearts of many young people, Downing believes there are two other factors playing in his favour. “He has the advantage of not being tainted by the messy business of actually governing,” he explained. “People are tired of politicians who clearly have a lot financially and materially telling them that they need to suffer,” he said, referring to Macron.  

The second factor, for Downing, is a deeply political tactic that has been used time and time again. Bardella has been explicit on his tough response to immigration and crime, but has often stayed blurry on specifics. “He is selling people a utopia, he is not selling them reality. And that is why the Brexit campaign and people like Donald Trump do so well,” Downing explained.

“This is the problem with contemporary politics,” he concluded. “It is not about substance. It is about whether or not the person is good-looking, [or if] they have charisma or a rebellious attitude you can relate to.”

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