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Strauss-Kahn’s arrest re ‘sexual attack’ makes French elections even more complicated

Posted on 15 May 2011 | 7:05am

Last month I posted a piece on the French presidential elections, predicting that they were about as tough to call as they come. I reflected on the fact that so many supporters of the Parti Socialiste said two highly contradictory things during the same conversation – that President Sarkozy is so low in the polls he has had it … and that President Sarkozy could still win.

One of the things holding them back from confidence was their concern that high poll ratings for the favoured candidate for the PS, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, would shrink once he left the respectability of the top job at the IMF for the rough and tumble of a campaign against a street-fighter like Sarko.

There was also the concern that stories about DSK’s private life would become an issue. The French media are famously less prurient or interested in politicians’ sex lives than ours, but Sarkozy’s ‘bling bling’ profile and his divorce then marriage to a film star have somewhat changed the mood.

And it will be impossible for even the most privacy-minded French paper to ignore the breaking news from New York that Strauss-Kahn has been arrested in connection with a ‘sexual attack.’ One of the rules of politics is its unpredictability. A few weeks ago, DSK was seen as a certainty by many to represent the left against Sarkozy and Marine Le Pen of the Front National. Today that mood has been shaken.

The buzz from the Sarkozy camp when I was last in Paris was that Francois Hollande was the one they really wanted. I wondered at the time if there was an element of double bluff attached to that. Whatever the real wishes of the President, the news from New York will confirm the view that he is not out of this, and confirm the view of Francois Hollande that he may well end up as the PS candidate.

Hollande, you may remember, is the former husband of the PS candidate last time round, Segolene Royal. How dull the UK media must find the private lives of our political leaders compared with those of the French…

*** Off to Middlesbrough today to play in a benefit match for former Burnley full-back Gary Parkinson, who had a stroke last year and has ‘locked-in syndrome’. Gary, just 43, is something of a legend at Burnley, having scored the winner in the 1994 play-offs that saw us promoted to the Championship, and then gone leaping over the barriers at Wembley to celebrate with the fans. I am playing in a team managed by Tony Mowbray and am particularly looking forward to playing with two of our players from that great day at Wembley, goalkeeper Marlon Berseford and the scorer of our other goal, David Eyres.

Gary played for a number of clubs, all of whom have been involved in different fundraising activities, and I hope Boro supporters come out in force to support him and his family.

  • Olli Issakainen

    Fame is a necessary capital for politicians. Celebrity status guarantees media attention.
    It is said that all publicity is good publicity nowadays. Frank Sinatra famously said that he does not mind what the papers write about him as long as his name is spelled right!
    Public attention to President Clinton in the US was huge. But in France, up to now politicians have been able to keep their private lives private.
    Affairs of Chirac and Mitterrand were hardly mentioned in the media even though Mitterrand supported a second family partly at government´s expense!
    Sexual relationships, drinking habits, family troubles etc. have not made the headlines in France. In Britain, these things have, of course, been a fair game.
    Anglo-Saxon view on press freedom means that public interest ranks higher than the individual´s right to privacy.
    Tony Blair said in 2004 that ministers should not be judged on their private lives unless their behaviour affected the performance of their public duties.
    But even in France there is now erosion of the boundaries between private and public. There is more competition in the media. Internet has arrived. And there has been a personalization of politics.
    Humanization has been used as an image strategy. Politicians appear to be more human, more personable. Privatization has been used to simplify complex political issues.
    Privatization has been used as emotionalism to generate general sympathy and create emotional bond. Niceness and feel-good factors matter. Sometimes more than actual policies.
    Sex life of DSK will not stop women voting for him in any presidental campaign. This side of DSK´s life has become a folklore in France. But he is just French!
    French voters do still judge politicians according to their projects. What they think of them as men is another matter. In 2007 nobody cared about Sarkozy´s marriage.
    In Britain parliament is currently debating proposals to reform libel laws. At the moment superinjunctions are gagging journalists to report matters of high public interest.
    Existence of superinjunctions cannot be reported. But some alleged details of privacy orders surfaced this week on Twitter.
    Some argue for a privacy law, others want to regulate Twitter. And then there is the question of a statutory regulator for the press.
    If the press wants to retain self-regulation, it has to first make sure that the PCC is a credible regulator.
    Journalistic freedom is needed to uncover the truth. But is all that interests public in public interest?
    On the other hand many high-profile figures trade on an artificially constructed image of their private lives for profit.
    In the age of internet nothing is private anymore.

  •  Nice post. I had forgotten that Strauss-Kahn was tipped to be the PS candidate . . . this business in New York really blows the whole thing open. (More worryingly: might it give the Front National a leg-up to power?)

    Another point: if Strauss-Kahn quits his job at the IMF prematurely (which is likely), will the debate about Gordon Brown’s suitability for the post be reopened?

  • Good post. I’d forgotten that Strauss-Kahn was widely tipped to be the PS candidate . . . this business in New York really does blow the whole thing open. Worryingly, might the Front National have a leg-up to power?

    I wonder too whether Strauss-Kahn will leave his IMF job prematurely. It seems likely, no? And if he does, will the debate about Gordon Brown’s suitability for the post be reopened (and, indeed, Cameron’s opposition to the idea?)

  • MicheleB

    I’ve just heard a reporter on Wato/R4 saying that whatever the outcome, S-K is now finished.

    What a bizarre thing for a him to say.  Would S-K really be finished even if he is completely exonerated?

    Do we not wait for facts before opining in such theatrical ways?

    I’m feeling very confused by the overly-PC atmosphere at the moment.

    In our own ‘injunctions situation’ we have prostitutes who’re thwarted in their attempts to kiss’n’tell (hardly the right phrase when it’s apparently unusual for commercial sex to involve kissing) being portrayed as poor women/’sisters’ who have less rights than their rich male clients.


  • Gilliebc

    “In the age of the internet nothing is private anymore”

    I often wonder how much longer we shall be allowed to keep and use this particular facility. 

  • Gilliebc

    “In the age of the internet nothing is private anymore”

    I often wonder how much longer we shall be allowed to keep and use this particular facility. 

  • Laura Payne

    If one loves conspiracy theories then the chamber maid ruse would be the perfect sting by your political opponents, especially if you’ve had to reveal previous indiscretions, as was the case for DSK…great film script!