Francois Hollande, was framed by a set of panto-esque red curtains as he attempted to conduct a gigantic U-turn on fiscal policy while simultaneously fending off interest in the identity of the First Lady of France. The President wanted to sound and appear dignified; but it seemed to Mr S that his make-up had been painted by a malevolent clown. The leader of the Fifth Republic puckered his tiny, baby pink lips and proceeded with his economic statement.
My filthy Anglo-Saxon mind made it seem that the spiel began with a procession of double entendres. ‘We’re talking about going faster, going further, going in more depth,’ he promised. ‘We must produce more. We must produce better,’ he conceded. Apparently France needs ‘vigorous growth’ and to ‘limit excess’. Well quite.
But this was Francois Hollande, the colour beige personified, and he was soon into his monotonous stride, obsessing over ‘figures’ and ‘social models’. He said: ‘I’m sorry; I am going to go into this detail’. We were sorry too.
This continued for forty minutes and eyelids began to droop. I was nodding off when Hollande remarked: ‘We have to reduce spending to reduce deficits’. This is a very different President Hollande to the one who taught Ed Miliband that austerity is not inevitable; ‘that another way is possible’. Who knows what has made him see the world differently? Maybe it’s the croissants.
Finally, the time had come for questions. Or so we thought. First we had to endure an alleged political correspondent who sucked his way through a fawning homily. ‘This year once again it’s an honour to express myself in the name of my colleagues,’ he said. The hack thanked the President for his New Year wishes, for the great work that he does for the people and for giving a speech. Then he got down to the detail – sort of. He said that he was ‘asking very simply’ about the matter that ‘gives rise to emotions, questions, curiosity’. A question was imminent. We all felt one coming. Finally: was the First Lady of France still the First Lady of France?
Apparently, this conveniently timed press conference was neither the time nor the place for such questions. Hollande said, ‘I have one principal: private matters should be dealt with privately’. He went on to declare that he would publicly resolve the matter before he went to the US at the end of the month, which showed some panache (although one wonders what Valerie Trierweiler makes of it). Later he reiterated that he is ‘totally indignant’ at the publication.
France’s media pack left it at that. I can’t help thinking that I saw a glimpse of Fleet Street’s future amid this Gallic deference, if certain campaigners get their way. The story continues. It will not be deferred.