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Marine Le Pen: Despite her father's racist legacy, her rhetoric resonates with voters (photo: Bruno Vigneron/Getty Images)

When Valérie Trierweiler's Thank You For This Moment hit the supermarket shelves in September, exposing the "hypocrisy" and "cynicism" of her long-time partner, President François Hollande, the book was greeted with a tumult of outrage. Many French booksellers refused to sell it. Instead their shop windows displayed posters denouncing the work as a cheap tale of kiss and tell. But if ever a story exposed the writhing nerve ends of a nation in crisis, it must surely be the sad affair of the First Lady scorned.

The French media and the ruling elite, often regarded as one and the same, immediately embarked on a campaign to portray Julie Gayet, the President's new "favorite", in the best possible light. The gamine actress appeared on the front covers of most French magazines (including Trierweiler's employers, Paris Match), while ridiculing the latter's book.

So November must have come as a slap in the face to those bien pensant censors when the UK rolled out the red carpet for Queen Valérie. Indeed, their indignation and anger boiled over. Jacques Séguéla, a famous publicist, accused her of "committing a crime against her country" and demanded she be stripped of the title "Former First Lady". France 5 TV pundit (and Hollande's cousin) Hélène Pilichowski called Trierweiler a "madwoman". Many more joined the bandwagon of latterday tricoteuses, rolling into town to sit at the guillotine of public opinion.

This repudiation of a woman ("planetary humiliation" is how she memorably described it in a BBC television interview) represents a form of moral violence which for many must call into question one of the central tenets of French society, namely "les droits de l'Homme". For a country which prides itself on defending the rights of man, France has instead become "le pays des droits de l'homme", in which the rights of women, particularly of the unmarried variety, are another matter entirely.

What the Trierweiler affair demonstrates is that what the public thinks does not tally with what their rulers and proxy-rulers think they should think: the books flew off the shelves as the "toothless poor" (Hollande's alleged phrase) bought it by the tumbril. The President's popularity, meanwhile, continued to plummet: his approval rating was only 2 per cent higher than that of ISIS, according to polls last summer.

If this is an apt illustration of how the French elite's view of the world has in recent years fallen out of kilter with reality, then another must surely be the £950 million Mistral warship deal with the Russians, signed in 2010 when Nicolas Sarkozy was President. The whole business, still being played out, has been shrouded in a cloud of duplicity and immorality.

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Philippa Venables
January 18th, 2015
12:01 PM
What a fascinating piece on the state of a nation, a useful economic appraisal of France laced with the tough challenges of race and gender politics. It's great to see this type of analysis which offers reference and comparison to the UK, but in the context of dramatic exposition of the crisis faced by France. I'd welcome more with this level of insight, especially in the light of the recent tragedy at Charlie Hebdo which can't fail to have serious and far reaching ramifications.

Tom Burnham
January 16th, 2015
9:01 AM
This is a deeply thoughtful series of reflections by Mark Porter. I was already a little francophobe: but not only has Porter reinforced my prejudices, he has highlighted how such decadence is reflected by the UK. More from Porter on the French body politic, please; and continued comparisons with the UK

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