I met Gaspard Delanoë in Café Le Chateau d’Eau in the 10th arrondissement. With high-fives for the bartenders, who refer to Delanoë as Monsieur Le Maire, and drinks on the house, in this 10eme bar, Delanoë may as well have already won the mayoral seat, for they treat him like a celebrity.
Winning only 3.7 per cent of the votes in the 10th arrondissement in the 2008 elections, it is hard to see Delanoë actually winning. But it is not his success in the polls, nor lack of it, that makes Gaspard Delanoë an interesting candidate but his campaign as a whole, which, like its creator, stands out from the crowd.
Gaspard Delanoë is in fact his pseudonym, chosen not, he stresses, with any relation to Bertrand Delanoë in mind. That is not to say he hasn’t capitalised on the coincidence, his tag line reads: “one Delanoë leaves, another one succeeds, Younger, Fresher, Better Performing!”
His humour is his selling point. His website is full of puns, even the name of his political party, ‘Parti Faire Un Tour’ plays on the French idiom, ‘partir faire un tour’ which literally means “to go take a walk”.
Delanoë says he wants to bring something new to politics, “a breath of fresh air” which he believes his humour provides. A new way to reignite people’s interest in politics, his candidature calls out to people bored to death by ‘‘serious’’ mayoral candidates, providing them instead with what he calls ‘’a mixture of utopia, humour and fantasy’’.
One is to create celib stations, a pun playing on the concept of the Parisian Velib, the French capital’s public bike initiative. A celib station would be a place to pick up singles, celib being the abbreviation of celibataire, the French word to describe someone who is legally single. Another innovative and satirical policy is to house the Roma people in the 16th arrondissement, one of Paris’ richest and most conservative neighbourhoods.
More of a wish list than a coherent body of policies, Delanoë stresses that many of them, however unlikely they may seem, should be considered as realistic possibilities.
He cites the fact that 100 years a go people scoffed at Victor Hugo who expressed his dream of a United States of Europe. This dream has now been realised through the creation of the European Union. This is Delanoë’s example of how geniuses of the past were often considered crazy, only later to be understood as ahead of their time in their revolutionary outlook.
Perhaps then Delanoë should be considered as ahead of his time. But more likely he is a product of this era. He is not the only comic personality to enter into politics or to want to re-jig the political system and the public’s perception of political life. The Italian comic and activist Beppe Grillo is a prime example of how comic intelligence combined with a disillusioned public can lead to powerful political movements.
Grillo’s policies are perhaps less ludicrous than Delanoë’s but his method of communication and his audience are very similar. Both Delanoë and Grillo use social media to communicate with their supporters. Delanoë says he ‘‘rarely updates his website’’ as practically all his communication is done through Facebook or Twitter.
The majority of Grillo’s and Delanoë’s supporters are young and social media is rapidly becoming the only way to contact them. ‘‘My campaign attracts youth” he says, “they seem to like and appreciate my take on politics”.
Delanoë is pleased to be influencing and engaging young people for part of his reasoning behind campaigning for mayor of the 10th arrondissement is simply ‘‘to get involved’’. People complain far too much about politics without doing anything about it, he says. “Its good to complain”, he argues, “but then you’ve got to get up and do something.”
So this campaign is Delanoë getting up and doing something. And if all he does is get a few more people interested and interacting with politics then he’s done his job, he says. “We should all be interested in politics’’, he says. All Delanoë is doing is trying to make it more interesting.