Jordan Bardella: heir of France’s Le Pen at just 27
Jordan Bardella, a self-confident 27-year-old, saw his status as rising star of the far right confirmed on Saturday, after party members elected him to succeed veteran leader Marine Le Pen as head of the National Rally.
The Paris-born politician was the odds-on favourite to take over the party after Le Pen decided to step back from the role after 11 years at the helm.
Formerly known as the National Front, the party had been run by Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie for 40 years before that.
Bardella is now the first party chief outside the family dynasty in a half-century.
“The fact the party president will not have the name Le Pen is the sign of openness and confidence that Marine has in the new generation,” Bardella told AFP during a recent trip to eastern France.
Not that the ultra-loyal protege, who was elected to the European parliament in 2019, is planning to try to overshadow her.
Bardella had been acting president since September 2021 when Le Pen stepped back during her presidential campaign.
“He’s got everything right and is respected by everyone,” far-right member of parliament Laurent Jacobelli told AFP at a mid-October campaign stop at Hayange in the Moselle region.
At the event, Bardella spoke confidently on stage, without notes, for 40 minutes, sharing details about his childhood on the eighth floor of a drab tower block in the crime-ridden Seine-Saint-Denis area northeast of Paris.
Bardella likes to emphasise that he is from a new generation of nationalists with little in common with the racist, anti-Semitic thuggery associated with Jean-Marie Le Pen and the National Front.
Marine Le Pen has gone to great lengths to try to distance herself from this toxic legacy, though critics say racism remains rife at the grassroots level and accuse Le Pen of simply spinning old ideas with new language.
Bardella is the image of the clean-cut and controlled modern party that she now promotes: conspicuously neat, always dressed in immaculate shirts, polished shoes, with hair cut short.
“Without Jean-Marie Le Pen, the National Front wouldn’t exist, but without Marine it wouldn’t still be here,” Bardella told AFP.
“She transformed it from having a protest culture to having a culture of government.”
There are also questions over what value the presidency of the RN has for Bardella, given Le Pen formally leads its cohort in parliament and is widely expected to be its presidential candidate in 2027.
But many expect the party position to be a stepping stone.
“I don’t know if we’re allowed to say it, and I don’t want to flatter him, but I sincerely believe Jordan will be president one day,” said member of parliament Jacobelli.