While we await Friday’s developments in the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case, the non-French press, following John Lichfield’s excellent piece in yesterday’s Independent, has moved on to discuss the French taboo of writing about private life; of the force of French privacy laws. But, in fact, the privacy laws are merely an excuse: it goes far deeper. French journalists do not write about politicians’ extra-marital sex lives because they are mates, because they know the future of each lies in the hands of the other.
France, as is widely known, is run by a small elite, educated in two or at most three very small, misnamed grandes écoles, taught by the same teachers and, in their pursuit of high marks, regurgitating the same ideas to please the same examiners. They graduate into France’s top jobs: administration, politics and the media. They remain close to each other. Some marry others from the same school. In later life, if they continue to please their examiners, they become senior politicians, top journalists, media editors. DSK is by no means the only senior politician married to a senior journalist. The editors—and most of the owners—of the French press know DSK well; all had been making flirtatious eyes at him, assuming he was going to be the Socialist candidate and probably, within 12 months, the president. It is taking them a shamefully long time to find reverse gear. Most have not yet found it, and when they do many will not dare use it.
Many in this cosy elite, both press and politicians, have for the past 72 hours been showing remarkable solidarity with a man who has been accused of attempted rape. As a consequence, a full 57 per cent of French voters believe that the incident is a set-up, according a poll released this morning by the Conseil Sondage Analyses.
Where will such thinking ultimately direct France? Into the arms of one of the only major figures who has spoken out for the victim, who has said what everyone suspected about DSK’s sexual proclivities but dared not say: Marine Le Pen.
The French elite, by their shameful lack of objectivity, are simply playing into the hands of the far right. It is no coincidence that well before this event, more and more of the “working class” were turning away from the left. Now they will do so in droves. The Socialist Party has imploded. From the start of this horrible affair they have made one error of judgment after another. Indeed their behaviour will, I am sure, serve as a teaching model for years to come on how not to do it.
As far as French politics are concerned, DSK is a goner—that was obvious within two hours of his arrest. The French Socialist Party should have cut loose from him on Sunday and chosen one candidate, there and then, decisively. Instead, Martine Aubry, breaking down in tears for the alleged aggressor, not for the victim, publicly dithers about whether or not to present herself in “the poor man’s” place.
Despite her undoubted talent, for Martine Aubry to see herself as a replacement candidate for DSK is pure blindness. She professes what we now call, disparagingly, old-style socialism. Whatever its strengths or weaknesses, her brand of socialism is at a huge remove from DSK’s. His was money incarnate. He is clever—a little too clever at times (he had to resign as finance minister in 1999 over an accusation of financial impropriety)—and although he likes to wear suits that cost more than many people’s annual income and be driven around in a Porsche, I am sure he sincerely wants a world in which everyone could drive round in a Porsche.
His brand of socialism wants to pull the world up from the top, Aubry wants to push it up from the bottom. DSK alienated a large number of socialists because he lived in Washington and was head of the IMF; Aubry alienates a different but perhaps equally large number because she is that solid, working class, work-less-for-the-same-money kind of socialist. A socialism whose time, many consider, is long gone. For her, tearfully, to “take Dominque’s place” would be to invite ridicule.
The other four declared candidates for the primary next month, François Holland, Ségolène Royal, Arnaud Montebourg and Manuel Vals, are still bickering amongst themselves. If they had any sincere feeling for their country they would throw in their candidacy now, behind one person. François Holland is the only one who makes any sense. He has the great advantage that the press love him and they will give him better coverage than they give Sarkozy, even though Sarkozy is now set to enjoy a huge wave of popularity which, pollsters believe, may keep him at the Elysée, for the simple reason his wife is pregnant. Politics has sunk to this: one of the most powerful jobs in the western world depends on whether you can impregnate your wife (as opposed to someone else’s).
But every hour the Socialist Party continues to dither, it pushes more voters to Le Pen and the far right. In the end France’s much-trumpeted “shame” is not about DSK in handcuffs, but will come in 12 months’ time, when a major political job hangs between a man who has consistently failed them over 5 years and an untried politician of the extreme right, some of whose ideas, if put into practice, would utterly ruin France. Shamefully, this is exactly the position France was in ten years before, in May 2002, when everyone cried “Never will we let this happen again!” Oh no?