François Hollande must be undergoing a bit of a personality crisis at the moment. To be or not to be Europe's greatest rogue: that is the question. Until 2011 he was just your average social worker's son; bespectacled, unremarkable, a bit of a behind the scenes political flip-flopper and- oh, wait- the Socialist party's presidential hopeful has (allegedly) assaulted a hotel maid you say?? We need to find a replacement faster than you can say 'I hear Gerard Depardieu's thinking of a career in politics' you say? A crash-diet, three bottles of Just For Men and a good tailor later; step forward François Hollande, France's Mr Cellophane. But has attempting to be a virtuous leader paid any dividends? In light of recent events, I'd like to explore his options.
Hollande has so far forged his presidential career on his much-publicised election declaration of being a normal guy, upholding decency and displaying "exemplary behaviour". He's been taken to task in the press over this hypocrisy of course- since news of his affair with Julie Gayet broke- although his approval rating did almost immediately rise by 2%. So via some crude and almost certainly incorrect maths, were he to carry on philandering at a rate of one new woman a week, his approval rating could hit 100% by roughly mid-May. Problem solved! This approach requires some dedication, particularly as his popularity is apparently waning dramatically again this week, proving the people of France will not accept a lull in his libido. They want to see his give-away lace-ups continuously traverse the thresholds of the nation's women at a pace even a Time Lord would struggle with. No female is safe if Hollande is to please the populous; he is coming for your wife. Or your sister. Or her mate Céline. He's got a space next Tuesday. Bask in the approval François... And stockpile the Viagra.
His team will need to get behind his new Lad Credentials. Can you imagine the high-fives around the cabinet table in the Élysée Palace when the headlines first hit? "What a bloody chap! François's only gone and bagged an actress..." "He is certainly proving himself to be quite the homme; we can really work with this!" "What douche gave him the 1980's scooter? He can't have an affair looking like a pizza delivery boy." "Hang on Pierre, does 'douche' mean the same thing in England as it does in France? I'm not sure if you're being derogatory or attempting a new line in whimsy? ..." *here the camera pans out of the outrageously stereotyped montage as louche, grey-suited men vigorously dip croissants into tiny shots of espresso whilst nodding, getting pastry flakes everywhere and not caring*.
There is the possibility that the effects of the affair on his character will make him a stronger politician too. Some say this has been the making of the man; he's become tougher, more guarded and indignant about his private life (now he has one we're actually interested in). Can this silent, proud virility make him more of a valid leader? He won't just introduce a new economic policy, oh no. He'll introduce it overnight when you're asleep, usurping the old one before you've even time to decide if you agree or notice it's changed and then he'll never mention it again. Although he will allow photos of the new economic policy to be posted across the media, seeing as this one really does look quite good, ergo upping his 'Homme' credentials. STOP ASKING WORLD, it's none of your business. I did it, it's happened, deal with it. You'll just have to wait and see which economic policy I bring to the White House won't you? Oh, I've been told I can't bring one at all? Spoil sports. I bet Michelle Obama knows some serious economic policies I could lay my hands on.
As he said in a press conference on January 14th, "...I have one principle. Private affairs are dealt with in private, with due respect to all parties." As his only principle, that's not a particularly accessible one for the country you're supposed to be running. I'm not sure it's acceptable to have just one principle when you're meant to be representing the majority (ish) of a nation's people. And unfortunately for Hollande, it's no longer a private affair. Maybe Cameron should waltz into the Commons tomorrow, declare that he's reduced his belief system to one principle: that he's not going to tell anybody anything, flick the Vs over the Dispatch Box and swan out, leaving the front bench swooning and fainting like teenagers at a 1D concert in the devastating wake of his powerful silence. It's so ballsy it might just work.
The other option is that Hollande takes some advice from other established Lotharios and tries to incorporate his newly-found sexual identity into just being part of Who He Is. Enter Nicholas Sarkozy. Sarkozy has barely contained his delight at his rival's love-gaff. He has been quoted by one French newspaper as saying "With Carla, we tried to quickly make our relationship official because I didn't want a photo taken one sordid morning or after nightfall," He allegedly goes on to chide, "Well, that photo of Hollande coming out of his mistress' place with a motorbike helmet makes Hollande look totally ridiculous." And that's the brie in the baguette isn't it, that Sarkozy was always smarmy, charmy and smooth enough to know how to get the First Lady he wanted? Hollande has arrived too late at the toga party to be taken seriously; there's only one set of keys left in the bowl and they're to his own moped. Real men, I imagine Sarkozy tells Carla every night as she helps him down off his high chair, don't get caught out.
There is, it seems, a pattern for the politically influential but less classically seductive to get rumbled for wrong-doing. There could well be penned a book entitled 'Affairs of the Unexpected' when you consider the dalliances of David Blunkett , John Prescott, Jacques Chirac, Edwina Currie and John Major (or 'Jedwina', as I like to call them). Even Bill Clinton was a bit of a double-take, despite the seeming ubiquitous bombast that comes with being an American president. Clinton's saving grace is of course his wife. A woman so dignified, poised and clever you begin to wonder if Bill wasn't just some practical joke she grew in a Petri Dish. Sadly for Hollande, there is no Hilary Clinton behind him to keep his state dinner invites coming in; she's a bit busy planning her own presidency.
Hollande has cut Valerie Trieweiler adrift to gallantly Go It Alone, so if he is to move forward and save face, he needs to pretty quickly decide which course of action he's going to take. And if he's not going to borrow Sarkozy's built-up shoes and marry an actress, he better hope that his Mojo can keep his approval rate climbing into May.