Quatennens’ case: France Insoumise’s losing communications strategy
Will the appointment of a new leadership for France Insoumise (LFI) this week-end allow the party founded by Jean-Luc Mélenchon to put an end to internal and media turbulences raised by what is referred to as the Quatennens’ case. Nothing is less certain as new episodes arise over through the ongoing legal proceedings, with a series of new twists and revelations, and as the first episodes showed the divisions caused.
A communication strategy based on the acknowledgment of facts… immediately swept away by the leader of France Insoumise
Faced with the pressure aroused by the revelations of Le Canard Enchainé of September 13, 2022, about the complaint filed by his wife against him, Adrien Quatennens first decided to adopt a strategy based on the recognition of a violent act and its gravity. He drew political consequences by announcing that he was stepping back from duties in the party and in the National Assembly.
But this strategy has almost immediately broke down when, nearly an hour later, Jean-Luc Mélenchon pointed out in a tweet “police malevolence, media voyeurism, social networks”, thus choosing a crisis communication strategy well known to politicians, which consists in denouncing a plot by the opponent to victimize the accused.
However, by choosing this communication strategy the leader of France Insoumise made a triple mistake.
On the form first, as this divisive position was unlikely to be shared by all the members and leaders of France Insoumise, especially since the party apparently didn’t organize any internal consultation. Concerning the content, on the one hand, this tweet gave the impression that what mattered most for the leader of France Insoumise was the reveal of the facts rather than their existence, and on another hand, he was in total contradiction with the stated line of his party regarding perpetrators of domestic violence. However, the media court rarely forgives such a discrepancy between rhetoric and fact. Tactically, finally, this tweet had the effect of adding a crisis to the crisis when communications in this type of situation are supposed to put out the fire as quickly as possible and limit the continuation of new episodes.
A lack of common strategy and clear response which cost the politicians of France Insoumise
This reversal hides the absence of a common position of the politicians of France Insoumise in the face of this case, the culmination of which was the organization by the parliamentary group France Insoumise of a press conference a few days after the announcement of Adrien Quatennens, during which the journalists expected to know the positions of the deputies of France Insoumise. This did not happen since, for lack of an agreement on the substance and, obviously, of prepared language elements, the party members awkwardly threw journalists’ questions at each other, in front of the sharp eye of Le Quotidien’s camera. A fatal lack of preparation in communication, especially in a crisis!
This lack of clear line was then expressed through the contradictory speeches, during which the members of France Insoumise tried various crisis communication strategies without any coordination… which had the effect of fueling the crisis again. While deputies Manuel Bompard and Clémence Guetté choose a particularly inappropriate strategy at the time of #MeToo, minimizing facts (“a slap does not mean a man beats his wife everyday”, “all types of violence are not equal”), other deputies from France Insoumise like François Rufin have publicly declared that they expected Jean-Luc Mélenchon to defend the fight against sexist and sexual violence “even when his friends are implicated”.
How can France Insoumise get out of the rut?
More than three months after the outbreak of the case and while the latest statements by Céline Quatennens accusing her husband of repeated violence from several years have rekindled the media embers, the deputies of France Insoumise haven’t yet decided of the becoming of Adrien Quatennens within their own political family.
What can they do to get out of the rut and try to rebuild their credibility in the fight against violence against women?
First, take a clear and common decision on the status and future of Adrien Quatennens within the party, to avoid feeding the words of the political members from all sides, and therefore, the media machine. Then, make pedagogy of the decision by ensuring that the spokespersons have a single voice in the media and do not try to minimize the fact or try to blame the media coverage of case on opponents or media voyeurism.
Defaulted three times in 2022 on the issue about violence against women, with the cases of Taha Bouafs, Eric Coquerel and Adrien Quatennens, France Insoumise must, finally, clarify the procedures for handling these cases and commit to implementing, in the future, exemplary decisions in the face of this type of situation to show that the party has learned lessons of these repeated crises.