On Booty Calls and Morning Croissants, Ctd.

The scandal continues, and embattled French President Francois Hollande’s annual new year’s press conference did absolutely nothing to bring any closure to the saga of the early morning croissant deliveries. Hollande did not even deign to acknowledge the disrepute that he is bringing on his nation during the text of his prepared remarks, and when asked about it during open questions he shot the line of questioning down.

So, the economy...
So, the economy…

The Guardian summarises the day’s happenings as well as anyone:

Asked in an exceedingly roundabout way whether Trierweiler was still the first lady, Hollande made clear his view that matters pertaining to his private life should be resolved in private, and said he would be taking no further questions on the subject (although he did promise to sort out his situation before his visit to Washington), and that was pretty much that.

There were one or two mild-mannered attempts to come at the question sideways, by asking about changes to France’s strict privacy laws, for example, and a brave bid by the Associated Press to come at it head on (“Does the president’s image matter?”). All received the same curt treatment.

The nature of the press conference revealed a couple of things to me – firstly, the huge deference shown by the local French press to their political leaders in any matters relating to personal behaviour and actions deemed to belong in the never-well-defined “private sphere”. Several commentators have already picked up on the fact that David Cameron or Barack Obama, embroiled in a similar scandal, could never have walked away from a set-piece press conference so unscathed. But what also shocked me was the unwillingness or inability of the foreign press, less beholden to the French political establishment for future favours and a good ongoing working relationship, to press home the lines of questioning. They had little to lose, but almost without exception they failed to follow up after Hollande declared the subject off-limits.

Still, if the French are content with their current arrangement whereby their politicians are free to engage in any manner of behaviour provided that it does not effect their performance in the day job, I suppose that this must be accepted, and the curiosity/outrage felt by many of us foreigners set aside. It is still my gut feeling that the supposed outrage of the French people at the invasion of Hollande’s privacy is partly a view expressed on their behalf by the elites who harbour skeletons of their own, but the polls suggesting that French attitudes toward Hollande remain unchanged are fairly conclusive.

I am glad to see that various media sources have finally started asking the question that I raised on this blog the same day that the story broke – namely, the implications for President Hollande’s security (and, by extension, the national security of the French republic) given the fact that he was taking off from the presidential palace incognito on the back of a scooter, unattended by any bodyguards during the night. As I said at the time:

Skulking around the capital city in the dark with limited protection, exposing oneself (and the  secure, uninterupted governance of one’s nation) to any risk of kidnapping, physical harm, blackmailing or worse in the pursuit of a booty call, is probably not behaviour that voters would wish to see in a serving head of state. Transgressions which take place before taking office, honestly explained, atoned for and forgiven by the electorate, are one thing. Actively committing further such acts whilst in office is another matter entirely.

Three days later and the Telegraph picks up on this same concern, which if we are to have no expectations for how a head of state conducts him or herself in their private life is the only real area left for criticism.

Le Monde reported Monday that Mr Hollande had visited the apartment on the Rue du Cirque with two trusted police officers in tow and with another team providing extra security, about ten times since last autumn.

But Mr Valiela said security was so lax that the president’s bodyguards failed to spot the paparazzi who had been spying on the apartment and taking pictures of the president arriving and leaving on two occasions just before and after the start of the new year.

The security detail also apparently failed to inquire about who the flat belonged to.

Yikes. This is pretty much the worst case scenario that I had considered – the lean security team being unaware of paparazzi in the vicinity of the president, let alone any more serious threats. My point, I suppose, is that in accepting the office of president and the powers and responsibilities vested in that office, a person has a responsibility to refrain from endangering the continued exercise of those powers. I’m not suggesting for a second that the French president should follow the lead of the United States and travel around in the excessive pomp of an Obama motorcade, not for a second. But being the leader of your country and sneaking off virtually unprotected to consummate a secret relationship seems to be an either/or proposition. The two just don’t sit very well together, even leaving questions of dignity and decorum entirely aside.

The next chapter in the pointedly unquenched rumour mill is that Hollande’s alleged mistress may be pregnant, thus continuing another time-honoured French presidential tradition. The French president may come to regret his failure to tackle the stories swirling about his personal life head-on when he had the world’s full attention.

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On Booty Calls and Morning Croissants

The BBC reports that French president Francois Hollande has been accused by a French magazine of having an affair with a 41-year-old actress, Julie Gayet. The article reveals:

The magazine’s print edition came out on Friday and shows pictures it claims support the rumours that the 59-year-old president routinely spends the night with Ms Gayet at a flat not far from the Elysee Palace.

The pictures show the pair arriving separately. Mr Hollande, wearing a helmet, is on a motorbike driven by a chauffeur.

The magazine claims the president’s bodyguard arrives the following morning to deliver croissants.

I like the detail of the morning croissants. Even if one is sneaking out of the Elysee Palace late at night to get some action, one still needs a decent continental breakfast so as to appear statesmanlike again the next morning.

Just as with the fictional American President Grant in the US drama “Scandal”, skulking around the capital city in the dark with limited protection, exposing oneself (and the  secure, uninterupted governance of one’s nation) to any risk of kidnapping, physical harm, blackmailing or worse in the pursuit of a booty call, is probably not behaviour that voters would wish to see in a serving head of state. Transgressions which take place before taking office, honestly explained, atoned for and forgiven by the electorate, are one thing. Actively committing further such acts whilst in office is another matter entirely.

The BBC article reports that though Hollande is making noises about potential legal action against the magazine Closer, he does not deny the specific allegations of the affair.

Although, if ever proven true, this would represent a severe lapse in acceptable personal standards of behaviour, and of presidential decorum on the part of Hollande, the solitary refreshing fact (if that term may be used) in the sordid allegation is that Francois Hollande does not continually preach to his people about the sanctity of traditional marriage in the way that some politicians in the UK, but particularly America, insist on doing.

In contrast to the likes of Newt Gingrich or Rudy Giuliani, both adulterers with serial failed marriages to their names, the French president does not devote his every waking hour to fretting about the potential impact of allowing gay people to wed on the institution of holy matrimony.

And for not adding his voice to the hypocritical cacophony of self-righteous moral preaching, we still owe Francois Hollande our thanks.

You don't want to know why Rudy Giuliani is smiling.
You don’t want to know why Rudy Giuliani is smiling.

 

How Not To Do Tax Policy

Priti Patel, writing in The Spectator’s Coffee House blog, warns that:

… we should all fear Ed Miliband’s praise for a new socialist French President who plans to raise the top rate of tax to 75 per cent. It is a chilling reminder of Miliband’s own commitment to a permanent 50 per cent income tax rate in this country.

But as he visited the Elysée Palace this week, one of France’s leading newspapers warned that the 75 per cent tax rate threat is already leading to French businesses evacuating senior executives to London. Since François Hollande’s victory on 6 May, this exodus of enterprise has caused the waiting list of the prestigious Charles de Gaulle school in our capital to rocket by over 700 places. We haven’t even rolled out the red carpet yet.

Very true. Let this be a warning to all those who think either that there is a binary choice between “austerity” and “growth”, or that Britain’s (or France’s) finances can be rectified, and the current excessive levels of government spending maintained, simply by turning the screws on the rich a little more.

Unfortunately, Patel’s article also misses out the most crucial actions required to get the British economy moving again – introducing much needed supply side reforms. Note:

Yesterday’s economic news reminds us of the need for the Government to continue to focus relentlessly on getting our economy moving – dealing with the debt crisis, boosting bank lending to the real economy, and ensuring sustainable long-term prosperity through radical economic reform.

Nothing about reducing regulation, either independently or through the European Union. Nothing about tackling the restive trades union that are always a day or so away from striking for spurious reasons.

By all means warn about Labour’s policies on tax, but given the fact that Osborne messed up the Budget and left us with a 45% top rate of tax for the foreseeable future, let’s focus on where the coalition government has the political strength to do the most good to restore economic growth.