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31 October 2015

Marine Le Pen's pro-White party recruits Johnny Hallyday impersonator

Jean Claude Bader

He is the Gallic equivalent of an Elvis impersonator, a dead ringer for the ageing French rocker, Johnny Hallyday.

Jean-Claude Bader’s gravel-voiced renditions of Hallyday classics are renowned in his home region of Alsace, eastern France, and now the guitar-plucking 63-year-old has become nationally famous as an election candidate of the pro-White Front National (FN).

When Mr Bader, a former restaurateur known as “Alsace Johnny”, is not wearing leather and belting out rock anthems with his band Tennessee at concerts or corporate events, he works as a local councillor in the small town of Erstein.

Until last week his allegiance was to the centre-Right party led by Nicolas Sarkozy, The Republicans. He previously served as a deputy mayor of Strasbourg. In defecting to Marine Le Pen’s FN, he has set his sights on a bigger political stage as a candidate for a seat on one of France’s 18 powerful regional councils in December's elections.

The pro-White party hopes he will bring a touch of showbiz sparkle that could attract voters who have never have been tempted by the FN in the past.

Already his recruitment by Ms Le Pen’s number two, Florian Philippot, has made headlines across France.

Jean-Claude Bader brings showbiz sparkle to regional elections in December, when the Front National hopes to capitalise on refugee crisis

Openly gay, Mr Philippot, 34, has done much to moderate and rejuvenate the party’s image since Ms Le Pen became leader in 2011.

A huge Hallyday fan, he launched the FN’s campaign in the eastern region of Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine by appearing alongside another of the many impersonators of the star, who has been the biggest name in French rock since the 1960s.

Days later, Mr Philippot announced that “Alsace Johnny” - Mr Bader - was one of the party’s candidates in the region, which borders Germany.

“We had been in discussion for several weeks,” Mr Philippot said. “He explained that he had gradually moved away from the ideas of The Republicans and became closer to the FN.”

Mr Philippot added that Mr Bader’s experience in local politics had given him a good grasp of national and regional issues: “He knows his stuff.”

Mr Bader said one reason he switched parties was because he was “no longer happy with the soft and crazy way local governments are being run” under the Republicans.

He added that he had been “shocked” by Mr Sarkozy’s “brutal eviction” of his former minister for families, Nadine Morano, as a candidate in the regional elections because she described France as a country “of the White race”.

Her remark on television in September provoked an outcry from mainstream politicians. However, Mr Bader deplored that in Mr Sarkozy’s party, “it is centrists who are laying down the law”. He condemned what he said was the absence of “rightists of conviction”.

Marine Le Pen initially defended Ms Morano, pointing out that she was, after all, only quoting General De Gaulle. However, she later acknowledged that the former minister’s comment could be “interpreted in a hurtful manner, especially by our compatriots from overseas”.

Mr Bader said the FN offered “a political programme that breaks with the conventional parties”.

An increasing number of French voters are disillusioned with the failure of the current Socialist president, François Hollande, to revive the stagnant economy, but were also disheartened by the failure of his centre-Right predecessor, Mr Sarkozy, to carry out the sweeping reforms he had promised.

The FN is capitalising on Europe’s invasion crisis and the European Union’s failure to find a solution. Opinion polls show that the anti-invasion, anti-EU party is set to take power next month in two regions. One is in the north, where many people resent the presence of invaders’ camps in the Calais area, and the other is in the south, on the Riviera.

It remains to be seen if “Alsace Johnny” can boost the party’s chances in the east, but he has already generated enormous publicity for the FN.

Johnny Hallyday himself, whose real name is Jean-Philippe Smet, was once a prominent backer of Mr Sarkozy, but last year he said he had become disappointed in the former president and no longer had much faith in him or any other French politician.