France is becoming newsworthy these days, most would say, for the wrong reasons.
It is no longer the hub of cultural debate but rather mired in political intrigue and sexual revelations triggered off from the highest echelons of power, starting from the presidency and down the ladder to an ex-president and his cohorts.
The battle between François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy is hotting up. They both feel a dismal lack of support from the public who must have had their fill of the pair’s political machinations, and are also now experiencing the brunt of a deep recession.
The incumbent president, the least popular in living memory, has made a fool of himself through his sexual exploits and his inability to discipline himself by containing his ramshackle love life to within acceptable limits.
And to make matters worse, adding to his misery, he has now to contend with the rampage his ‘Rottweiler’ is causing him on an international scale through her avid promotion of her vindictive ‘kiss and tell’ book, now published in Britain.
The former First Lady was humiliating Hollande in the eyes of the world and covering the office of the presidency in ridicule. Compared by some to Lady Macbeth, blinded by spite and ignoring national interest; others are horrified that she has taken her Hollande-bashing over the Channel, pursuing her work of mass destruction abroad.
In the meantime, Nicholas Sarkozy is not faring much better. When the former president announced his political comeback and expected his nomination by his own party to prove little more than a formality, the coronation went horribly askew. Next weekend’s vote by members of the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) is threatening to turn into an embarrassment for the former French leader because of a one-time protégée with an unlikely side-line in erotic literature.
He’s called Bruno Le Maire, forty-five, a former agricultural minister, dismissed by Sarkozy as a dull technocrat when he announced his candidature for the party leadership. Supporters of the former president were banking on their man to secure at least ninety per cent of the vote, paving the way for him to win the presidency in 2017 from Hollande.
But opinion polls suggested that Sarkozy’s standing was falling fast – and to add to his woes he now appears less popular among members of his own party than Alain Juppé, a former prime minister, who could be a rival candidate in 2017.
Sarkozy’s inner circle of advisers said then he would have been happy with seventy per cent in last Saturday’s vote. Anything less would have been a humiliation that would seriously dent his return to the Elysée.
Subsequently, he only received sixty-five per cent of the vote – but they still claimed a substantial victory.
It was Sarkozy himself who unwittingly boosted Le Maire’s fortunes by his ill-conceived jibe to brand him a lightweight author as well as a mundane politician. ‘The poor man writes books that no one reads,’ the former president said, ‘oh yes, I did read one. The one in which he masturbates.’
Le Maire wrote the book Sarkozy refers to in 2004. In it, the author recounted a trip to Venice with his wife, Pauline, who is a painter: ‘I let myself go to the warmth of the bath, the light of the lagoon floating on the mirrors on the door, the green tea soap and Pauline’s hand gently caressing my penis,’ he wrote.
The work had been largely ignored when it came out, but Sarkozy’s unwise comment has had the opposite effect. It excited the curiosity of the French media which began to speculate the former agricultural minister was not quite as boring as he looks.
Le Maire had always been seen as a typical French establishment figure; the scion of a well-heeled Parisian family, he went to one of the best universities, got a job in the upper echelons of the civil service and then entered politics. He was nicknamed ‘the egghead’.
But that was a false image. The reality was different, he revealed in his latest book A nos Enfants, published in September. He tells how his father staked the family fortune on Eurotunnel shares, only to lose it. Le Maire said he then had to pay for his own studies by ghostwriting romantic novels under an English pen name.
Le Maire has refused to divulge the titles of his works but the plots invariably involved wealth, seduction, betrayal and plenty of sex. He likes voters to think he knew what he was writing about: ‘You can’t understand politicians if you don’t understand their sexuality…’ he says. He dismisses François Fillon, Sarkozy’s former prime minister, on the grounds that if he was in a hotel room with a prostitute ‘not only would he not screw her but he wouldn’t have an erection’.
In the book he paints himself as a reformed sexist.
Le Maire’s campaign has caught Sarkozy off guard. While the former president has veered to the right in pursuit of supporters of the increasingly popular National Front, Le Maire has pledged mainstream policies and promised transparency and openness. Sarkozy is said to feel betrayed: ‘The bastard, it was me who made him,’ he told Le Parisien.
Vive la France, I say. It never fails to entertain us. I wish our politicians lived the life they secretly hanker for and got multiple erections for being human.
Where art thou Tony Lambton? For we truly miss you…