“When you come from civil society, you cannot immediately claim to be a ‘politician’ because there is a learning process to be done. But for people, it starts as soon as the candidacy is announced. As the deputy LREM of Lot Huguette Tiegna illustrates, the novices of the majority experienced a real upheaval when they acceded, in 2017, to the status of man or woman politician. A change of identity that takes place above all in the eyes of others. “The very first time I spoke at the start of my campaign, at the end of a town hall meeting, instantly someone in the audience said, ‘You politicians …’” remembers Caroline Abadie, Member of Parliament for Isère. “We immediately go to the other side of the barrier, especially in the professional environment”, testifies Bruno Studer, deputy of Bas-Rhin, professor of history and geography before his election. “Some people think you have the power to change everything on your own, and therefore blame you for not doing it. “
“As soon as one becomes an elected official, especially national, one is targeted by mistrust of politics”, confirms sociologist Étienne Ollion, author of a recent work on novice deputies (1). “The novices of LREM experienced a very clear example of this at the time of the yellow vests crisis. They were criticized by the latter for being “above ground”, disconnected from the reality of the country. This is exactly what these novice deputies criticized their predecessors. For some, it was even the reason for their engagement. This development, in the notoriety brought by the election, requires the newly elected officials to make substantial changes in their daily habits. “They are sought out in the street, they are scrutinized, and this leads to changes in their habits: clothing, hairstyle …”, illustrates Étienne Ollion. “I no longer honk while driving,” confirms Caroline Abadie with a smile.
This awareness of being under the constant watch of the public very quickly becomes “second nature”, testifies the deputy. “When I realized that I had my chances of having the legislative nomination, I spent two days removing the photos of my children from my Facebook account. In a way, I had to hide part of who I am from the world. His colleague Bruno Studer recounts a similar experience, when he refused, shortly after his election, for a television crew to come to his house and film his children.
If it first appears, and all of a sudden, outside, this change of identity is also taking place more gradually among these newly elected officials. Over the course of the mandate, they felt more and more imbued with their function. “Among the novices, those who want to represent themselves have changed,” affirms Étienne Ollion. They now experience themselves as elected representatives of the nation. Some even challenge their own position from 2017. They say: “We made a mistake with the backing, we need competent people.” And those who, on the contrary, continue to claim to be “civil society” live it less well. “On the subjects where we have competences, the responsibilities are nevertheless entrusted to those which are more political. They make us understand: “You have skills, but here, that’s not what counts.” It’s a bit frustrating, ”says Huguette Tiegna.
The extremely time-consuming nature of the parliamentary mandate – up to a hundred hours of work per week, according to Étienne Ollion – also plays a role in this identification of the elected representative with his mandate. However, everyone knows that this identity will disappear one day – especially in this “new world” which rejects the idea of a political career. “I saw people who were nothing anymore because they no longer had a mandate. I don’t want that to happen to me, anticipates Bruno Studer. To do this, you have to make time for something else. On weekends, when I go fishing, I am no longer a politician. It doesn’t totally define me. “
“I am not just a politician, also considers Caroline Abadie. It is very limiting. I am also an entrepreneur, a mother, a sportswoman… But it is nevertheless this name which made me discover in the eyes of the others. It’s only one side, but it devours us. “