Some years ago when Britain was undergoing another of its sexual scandals involving a leading politician I was told this tale. The French president was running for re-election and his team discovered his opponent had fathered a child outside of wedlock in his 60s – should they leak the news? A panic stricken president said “no, no, suppress it. If the voters find out they’ll all vote for him!”
The president and opponent were never named and I know not if the story is true or apocryphal. However it sums up the Anglo Saxon view of Gallic politics where a rampant sex life is as much a badge of honour as ‘mom and apple pie’ are for US politicos.
That being so I was surprised to read that the Socialist candidate in the French presidential elections, Francois Hollande, is said to have been embarrassed by a book revelling the feuding women in his life.
Hollande’s former lover and mother of his four children – oh how very French – was Segolene Royal who was the failed Socialist candidate for the presidency in 2007. The book tells us that the new woman in Hollande’s life, Valerie Trierweiler, resented her royal rival and refused to support her in those elections. Hollande is said not to have been very supportive of Royal’s presidential bid either and the question is will Segolene seek revenge this time out?
The much hyped scandal, if that is what it truly is, is unlikely to help Sarkozy cling on to the presidency. French voters seem happy enough to be in bed with Hollande who has appealed to the traditional French dislike of the rich by saying he’ll tax earnings above one million euros by 75 per cent. Given those who earn over one million euros were unlikely to support the Parti Socialiste anyway Hollande seems to have hit on a safe seduction technique.
The French right is depicting Hollande as a man without ministerial experience when what the country needs at this time of European crisis is an experienced leader such as Sarkozy. Of course neither Tony Blair nor David Cameron had ministerial experience when they came to office and unless you are a two term US president all candidates come to that post untested as world leaders or commanders in chief. Opinion polls suggest that French voters are willing to gamble on Hollande: after all handling a complicated love life can be no more difficult that ruling from the Elysee.
The Labour MP Dennis McShane, who knows Hollande well, has described him as more Atlee and Truman than Blair or Obama. Yet I wonder how useful British or US comparisons are when used on French politicians.
Hollande has been described as the laid back man of French politics not difficult when your male opponent is noted for his “bling bling” and high heels. None-the less the quiet man produced an impressive speech in Le Bourget earlier this year before 25,000 people which captivated the nation with its messages of equality and financial regulation. He has also outdebated his opponents on TV. Hollande has built up a firm lead in the opinion polls over Sarkozy but there are weeks to go before polling day and it has to be seen how the Toulouse shooting spree by the Al Qaeda linked gunman pans out with voters. It should favour Sarkozy as he is seen as strong on security yet the election will be held on the economy so Hollande is still expected to triumph. Then there are potentially two president election days to win with Sarkozy favourite to be slightly ahead in the first but to be trounced by Hollande in the second on May 6. Yet rest assured the sitting president will pull out all the stops to stay in office.
Hollande is pro-Europe and socialists throughout the continent are pinning their hopes of a revival for them on his shoulders. However whether a Hollande victory will impact on the fortunes of the centre left in Britain, Germany, Italy or Spain remains to be seen.
The EU with Hollande as one of the key players will be a very different place to that in which Sarkozy holds centre right stage. The socialist president will want big money put in its place and kept under firm control. He wants a socially just world where workers share in the wealth they created. It is a French ideal which the voters seem to be falling in love with.
(The above article was publish in the London Progressive Journal on Sunday April 1 2012 - photograph courtesy of Axelle Lemaire).