Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The La Rochelle Drama

The French press has been distracted by the Trierweiler-Royal saga from the real story in the 1st District of Charente-Maritime, which is why a second banana like Olivier Falorni is in a position to eliminate one of the Socialist Party's elephants next Sunday. Some polls have Falorni winning with 58% of the vote, which is extraordinary. Royal is not une parachutée in the region. She has been its governor for years. To be sure, her candidacy was imposed by the national party on the local federation, but it is a district that has been reserved for a woman, so Falorni's challenge was a break with party discipline. Why are the rank-and-file voters supporting him? Is it Royal they resent? Is it the presumptuousness of the national party? Are there local issues that are driving this contest? The press has been remarkably uninformative about all this, preferring to concentrate on what the media clearly hope will be a mud-wrestling, hair-pulling contest between the "president's two women," as Hollande puts it. All this is diverting enough on a human level, but it leaves out the politics of the situation.

As for some of the overheated reaction in the comments section of a previous post, I can only say I am flabbergasted by the blindness that partisanship can induce. Hollande's connubial arrangements may be unconventional, but his predecessor's marriage to a gauchiste songstress who warbled about her "trente amants," who had affairs with a father and son, who slept with rock stars and prime ministers, and whose nude pictures can be found all over the Internet hardly fit the traditional mold either and certainly alienated more right-wing voters than Trierweiler's tweet is likely to alienate left-wing voters. As one commenter said to another, "Get a grip!"


Mitch Guthman said...

1. I don’t understand what is going on in La Rochelle, especially the motivations of Olivier Falorni in running against Royal. Neither do I understand why the rank and file of the PS is supporting him over Royal. I clicked through to most of the articles but they were not helpful. I would welcome additional information and suggestions for further reading.

2. I would also offer a small defense of Cincinna. Yes, she’s over the top but she’s also sort of right in saying that this really is potentially a big deal. Not for the moralistic reasons she gives but because the election in La Rochelle is being seen as perhaps a foreshadowing of the chaos to come. And it getting a much play on the left as the right.

The story is the cover of Libération. It’s getting big play in a Nouvel Obs comment about Trierweiler’s intense jealousy of Royal and they question if perhaps she might be a serious liability for both the Socialist Party and Hollande himself.

Even Libé is asking whether the apparent rivalry between Trierweiler and Royal is going to turn Hollande’s presidency into some kind of bedroom farce.

Christine Clerc has a great article on Marianne2 saying that Trierweiler needs to chose between being an independent political actor/journalist and first lady. I think she’s 100% right on this. My apologies for a long, but I think very perceptive quote:

“Mais voilà qu’elle se tire elle-même une balle dans le pied. Ou plutôt, qu’elle tire une balle dans le dos de son compagnon. Lui qui voulait tellement faire simple et normal, proche des paysans de Corrèze, mais digne sur la scène internationale et en tout cas différent d’un Sarkozy affiché chaque semaine en couverture des magazines people, le voilà tiré vers le bas, en pleine pipolisation. Comme s’il avait oublié la crise européenne et l’avalanche de plans sociaux! Sous les risées de la droite et les pleurs de rage de la gauche, le couple Hollande et la rivalité Valérie-Ségolène font  la une. Après des mois, des années d’habile et patient travail pour faire oublier «Flanby» et «Hollande le mou»  le président de la République se voit de nouveau caricaturé –aujourd’hui, par les Guignols, demain, par la presse étrangère–, en pauvre garçon indécis, incapable d’imposer son autorité.

On dira qu’il y a bien des raisons de défendre la cause d’Olivier Falorni, le candidat  rochellais cruellement exclu du PS  parce qu’il refusait de céder la place à la présidente du Poitou-Charentes. On dira aussi que Valérie Trierweiler est une citoyenne  comme les autres: elle a le droit de s’exprimer, et qu’elle soit d’un  avis contraire à celui du président et du PS démontre son indépendance d’esprit.

L’ennui, c’est qu’elle aurait dû faire ce choix depuis longtemps. Elle aurait dû refuser, en conséquence, de se montrer sur le tapis rouge du Palais de l’Elysée le jour de la passation de pouvoirs, puis de gravir les marches de la Maison Blanche. On ne peut pas être tantôt Première dame, tantôt  journaliste d’opposition et toujours femme jalouse sans décevoir un peuple et déstabiliser gravement un compagnon président.”

Personally, I’m a great fan of Valérie Trierweiler. She could be a tremendous asset to Hollande as Premiere dame. I like her style. I like her politics. I respect that she was a player long before she and Hollande became a couple. Nevertheless, she can’t be an independent actor or a journalist during Hollande’s presidency. It's impossible.

Above all, she can’t pursue her vendetta with Royal. She’s making Hollande look like a fool. I can’t understand why the two of them haven’t gotten this sorted out already but I feel like this is making Hollande look weak at a time when he needs to step up and demonstrate strength and leadership to help France out of this crisis.

Alex Price said...

The answer to the question posed in this post -- how could Falorni be in a position to defeat Royal? -- seems to be, according to an Ifop poll and analysis (reported online in Le Figaro), that UMP voters will support Falorni in an effort, successful if the poll is correct, to bring down a major PS figure. Not knowing anything about the situation in La Rochelle, I was sympathetic initially to Falorni. But now it seems clear that his candidacy has become a vehicle for those who simply want to hurt the PS. Given that, it is hard to agree with Valerie Trierweiler that Falorni “n’a pas démerité,” regardless of what you think of Royal or her candidacy imposed from above.

Anonymous said...

Art is right about getting a grip. This story is being blown way out of proportion, on this blog at least. Valérie Trierweiler committed a faute politique, no question about it. Elle a perdu une bonne occasion de se taire. Her companion, boyfriend, significant other, or whatever one wants to call him is certainly embarrassed. But this is not a political crisis. And it is not "huge". GMAB! Unless VT continues to tweet to her heart's delight et n'en fait que à sa tête - and/or if this causes serious problems in her relationship with François -, this is a three or four day story and that won't matter one way or the other by next week. And I can't see what impact this could have on Sunday's vote. Does anyone really believe it will shift votes or cause voters to stay home? Allons. In this respect, Art's comparison of Carla Bruni - whose past behavior genuinely disturbed a certain number of voters on the right (mainly older ones) - with VT was apt. The latter’s current behavior is not going to turn off any left voters to Hollande.

On "second banana" Olivier Falorni, his appeal to the Rochelais is hardly a mystery. He's a well-known local pol, has likely shaken hands with every PS voter in the circonscription, and no doubt knows their names too. Ségolène Royal's parachutage rubbed local socialists the wrong way - this is known - and her personality has likely not helped smooth things over. SR has undeniable political qualities but is haughty, abrasive, and arrogant on the interpersonal level - this is known - and which is not serving her well in the very local race in the Charente-Maritime 1st. And then there are all the UMP voters who will be voting for Falorni. They’re the ones who will make the difference on Sunday.


sf reader said...


You make an excellent point re: the evident desire of the press and no doubt many in the public to focus solely on a "mud-wrestling, hair-pulling contest" between two women. Which is kind of ironic, when the title of your original post on the subject included the phrase "cat fight".

A little self-awareness might make the tone of your second post sit a a bit easier ;).


Une lectrice (depuis longtemps qui a ete un peu decu par le titre de votre post)

Cincinna said...

@Mitch et al
This is a very big deal. So big indeed, that Tge Prime Minister had to step in and make an official declaration that Valerie Trieweiller should stay in her place.
M. Ayrault told France Info radio:
"(Miss Trierweiler's) role is a discreet one which is not easy to figure out. I can accept that beginnings are always a bit complicated, but everyone must keep to their place."
Is Jean-Marc Ayrault the only adult on the scene?

This has nothing to do with morals, but the idea of the President's mistress meddling on affairs of state and interfering with his role as President to pick the ministers he wants in his government.

François Hollande was elected, Valerie Trieweiller was elected to nothing. It is not her place to make government policy or choices.

Whatever Carla Bruni-Sarkozy's lifestyle before she married the French President, she was unmarried, and a private citizen. From the day she married Sarkozy, she became a public figure and political wife and acted accordingly, She never meddled in government business or expressed political opinions.

As for Olivier Falorni, he was probably going to win anyway. People don't like to see their local on the ground guy pushed aside to make room for Hollande's former girlfriend. Payback to her, bigtime, for supporting Hollande, after she famously said "and can you tell me what François Hollande has done these last 30 years"

It will be interesting to see if this transfers to other circonscriptions.

The prime minister also said President Hollande shared his view that "one should not mix one's public and private lives".

gregory brown said...

Alex Price's remark above seems to me the heart of the issue, which is much more substantive in my view than a "cat fight." The issue is that Falorni scored well above his polling in the first round largely because he overperformed in better-off, UMP-voting parts of the district and turnout was down significantly from the presidential left-leaning parts of the district, which are largely middle class service-industry workers rather than industrial working class.

What seems to me the heart of the issue is that Royal was moved into the 1st from the 2nd district, from which she had been elected to the Assembly off and on since 1988, to give her original, safer district to Batho. Clearly the expectation was that Royal could run and win in a more competitive district.

I interpret the choice of UMP voters to vote for Falorni over Royal and for PS rank and file to abstain in larger numbers as a statement about the stakes of the election -- they saw few actual policy ramifications to the election and wanted (in the case of UMP voters) to cast a protest vote against the political establishment or at the least (for PS leaning voters) no real value in turning out for either one.

To me this speaks then to a political malaise that has more to do with the sense of the irrelevancy of the legislature, and the lack of engagement with the national political parties as institutions of civil society, than with the personalities of Royal or Trierweiler.

Art Goldhammer said...

I don't know, Greg and Alex. If I were a voter in Charente-Maritime 1, I'd weigh up the advantages that can accrue to a district from having une grosse huile as my rep. Royal is not an unpopular figure, despite the character flaws sometimes attributed to her, summed up by Arun above--and which I think are exaggerated. I think the lesson of this election is the lesson of all big left-wing losses: there's strength in unity and disaster in division. This is the stupidest possible division, and Falorni's failure to see that will end up achieving precisely nothing. No message will be heard in Paris, no popular discontent will be conveyed to the councils of power, and Sego's humiliation will be her personal cross to bear. It will all be forgotten in two weeks, when the euro crisis comes to a head. This is small beer.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it will be forgotten soon. Among journalists and upper-level classes, probably. But at the ground level, it's seen as unforgivable. There was an immediate, visceral reaction around me, including among people who can't stand Ségolène Royal. And it lasts. They express disgust and anger and worry. People project into this drama and all -yes, ALL- condemn Valérie Trierweiler. Such unanimity is rare and the force of the outrage is not dying down. it's been 3 days and it's still going strong. All express a variation of "who does she think she is?" + "she's a b..." I'm sorry for the word but it really is what's being said (with many developments). People who vote left add worry that this ridicules Hollande by playing into the French couple=vaudeville, makes his caricature on Guignols true, and weakens his presidency. Some have concerns about the vote on Sunday. Friends in the PS have received phone calls casting Hollande's ability to lead into doubt. Government people have said they fear the loss of 10-15 seats that were close. One would have to be naive to think a president's image does not matter. So, yes, this is a big deal.
(Also, remember that for a vast majority of French people, the crisis makes no sense, except jobs disappear.)

bernard said...

This is not small beer. Whatever the personal saga over the years, S. Royal remains closely associated with Pres. Hollande in the public eye. Secondly, Royal (mistakenly) declared early her interest for the top Assembly presidency - which she would get if elected -.

These are 2 good reasons to make her a very high value target for the conservatives.

Her defeat, with the powerful help of V.T. who is making sure that she does resemble her Guignols caricature, will be hailed by UMP as a major victory and will do serious damage to a presidency that was otherwise starting well.

Last, Pres. Hollande will surely enjoy Glavany as president of parliament. Need I remind readers of his nickname?

Anonymous said...

@Mitch and Art:
Since I've followed that story from the start, here are the basics.
Olivier Falorni is a bright young man who thinks highly of himself. He's witty and a friend of Jospin's. Thanks to this, he became "1st secretary of Charente Maritime", meaning he managed the PS units at the département level. He hasn't really left a mark and lost a few seats but also made many friends, including Fountaine, a powerful businessman who's best friends with Jospin and who hates Royal.
Falorni's been known locally for his "purges" against Royal's supporters and his animosity toward her. Furthermore, in the past couple years, he's convinced himself he had a national career ahead of him. He thus decided he'd become député after Bono, La Rochelle's mayor, quit to respect the "règle du non cumul". (Many French politicians hold several elected positions at once but this is supposed to stop).
Alas, alas, the PS decided that this constituency would be reserved for a female candidate. This to increase female representation in the National Assembly (still about 87% male, I think). There's a similar scheme to increase the representation of diverse origins.
Diversity candidates have ALWAYS been resented by local apparatchiks and if you look at the dissidence map, you'll see it concerns almost exclusively women or minority candidates v. local white males who think it's their "right". (1/2)

Anonymous said...

Falorni thus decided he'd run second with a woman as a front. Her name is peculiar (Nanou) so I remember that well and was surprised to see her depicted as a Royal supporter during the news on Monday. Unless Nanou is a popular name for female socialists in La Rochelle.
Anyway, lo and behold, Royal was named the candidate for the PS. A local election was called. Falorni made his views known, such as "Je la vomis", which I think translates either as "she's like vomit" or "she makes me throw up". Many people in the Jospin camp cheered. Royal didn't improve things by underscoring Falorni's status as a "second banana". The local UMP entered the fray under the guise of former ministers Bussereau and Raffarin. Bussereau's in charge of the UMP in Charente Maritime and Raffarin won't forgive Royal for taking "his" region from him. They stated that weakening Royal would weaken the entire left in the region and would thus bolster their chances during the midterm elections.
The atmosphere became so awful Martine Aubry (no Royal fan) cancelled the election, as was done in a variety of other party units where "the local climate was not conducive to serene voting".
Thus Royal, who is president of the region and has been there since 1988, was qualified as "parachutée" (a term the French use to describe someone who's sent to another area of the country in order to get elected.) The absence of an election was seen as proof she's a dictator in the making. And all was set in motion.

Right now, Falorni would be elected with 83% votes from UMP and FN voters. However I note the Sud Ouest poll only had 600 people, so I don't think it's that dire.
Yesterday, Royal and Falorni had a meeting. Royal looked clearly distressed and Falorni looked smug. I noted his meeting was attended by the local UMP.

Art Goldhammer said...

Well, thanks for all that, Anonymous. As for MYOS and Bernard, yes, I agree, the damage to the Hollande image is permanent. I didn't mean to minimize that. It's just that in the grand scheme of things, bigger things are about to descend on France, and whether Royal is or is not pres. of the National Assembly will not matter much.

And regarding my use of the misogynistic phrase "cat fight," mea culpa. I shouldn't have. Unfortunately, it is an inescapable part of this story that the public reaction is based on a set of misogynistic stereotypes. As MYOS notes, VT has been definitively labeled with the B word, and Hollande is blamed for putting up with such a companion. It's a morass. But my critic is right: I should be more careful.

Anonymous said...

ps: my impression is that Falorni is well-liked locally among the PS rank-and-file but the animus in this battle is detestation of Royal.
It transcends party line.
As to why Royal is so hated, I'd say it's partly her abrasive character but also some of her ideas which trample on local pols' sense of entitlement.
(To give you an idea of the astounding privileges many French officials enjoy as their "right", I heard one get all upset when asked why in the world she'd accepted a military commission just for the shiny medal and the extra salary, isn't that a waste of public money since she won't ever serve..)

If the middle class/lower middle/working class neighborhood go vote on Sunday, things might look quite different from today.

If Royal loses, it'll be THE story for a week, regardless of the left's win. And it'll be a mark on Hollande's early presidency.
As I said earlier, this is the kind of story that sticks: many people have expressed concern for the Hollande-Royal children, for example. "If my second wife did that to my first wife, neither of my kids would talk to me. And they're in their 30s."

If the PS loses seats and voters explain it's related to the tweet (as for some it really shows Hollande is spineless and unfit to lead, with a loose cannon for a wife) it'll be even worse.

Robert said...

To build on Art & Anonymous' posts: Segolene's likely defeat (I saw her on Canal + this morning, she looked stunned and almost resigned while addressing local supporters at a rally) will damage a president who took over the office with the burden of proving he isn't a lightweight and can manage a government. He won the presidency in a majority center-right country on the basis of the rejection of a center-right president and has the slimmest margin of error, especially given the troubles that may lie ahead. I don't usually make predictions, but this will not end well.

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine just said "I didn't vote Hollande in order to be ruled by a Paris Match journalist".
And this seems to be echoed by a lot of people.
Hopefully left-leaning voters in La Rochelle will realize that Hollande's image would be irreparably damaged and will leave their TV sets to vote. (Last Sunday was the French Open and I know of some who didn't go to the polls simply because they hoped to watch Nadal lose for once.)

@Bernard: no, I don't know Glavany's nickname. How is that related to what's happening?

@Robert: if Royal loses, this can't end well. If she wins, I don't know.

Anonymous said...

(This was Myos, again)

I saw Royal on France2, too, and she looked like someone who hasn't slept in two days and has shed too many tears to hide the fact. She looked like you'd expect a woman after her companion hit her repeatedly in places covered by her clothes. She didn't sound like herself at all. She looked... haunted.

In the same segment,Olivier Falorni was shown in a courtyard, in the sun, smiling, more holding court than holding a meeting. There was a smattering of people, many of them old and/or with walking sticks on their lap. An ump politician was interviewed in his support, along with a minister from Mitterrand's (or Jospin's?) era.

sf reader said...

Dear Art,

With your simple mea culpa you have won the internet for the day, by my lights.

The misogynistic slant to the coverage *and* how it is being perceived by the public are unfortunately spot on observations by you and others on this thread. This aspect of the story absolutely deserves to be reported and commented on. Just not added to, as you also have trenchantly observed.

As the broader context is filled in by bits and pieces, including by commenters on this blog, in fact, we can go beyond merely noting the influence on this political event of prepackaged narratives re: "how women fight over men" to understand the local dynamics playing out when, for example, certain safe seats are reserved for women or "diversity" candidates.

Thus, there does seem to be some traction in pushing back against SR as a parachutee given her deep involvement in the region. But can the reservation policy achieve its goals without effective recruitment and support for women (of whatever background) and non-white men to work their way up through the local party/political establishment ranks the way Falorni has? Or is that recruitment and support actually taking place, and this particular mess is an outlier?

bernard said...


related in the sense that Glavany is looking to preside parliament. As for his nickname: glavi..x

Anonymous said...

@ Bernard: I'm afraid I don't understand what "glavix" means. It reminds me of "Asterix" but ? I also don't see how it'd make Hollande happy or unhappy?

Rue89 found UMP voters for Falorni on Ile de Ré. they do look like what I saw in that France2 segment: old (and slightly cranky). Mostly they hate her for no reason whatsoever, the "reasons" given indeed seem to be fabricated but widely held.

Royal's reaction

To watch the F2 report, it's roughly around the 15th minute

A PS party member gives his opinion on the above article and adds a video with Royal's opinion of her UMP rival (Sally Chaadja) for whom Bussereau asked NOT to vote to garantee votes for Falorni from the right.



Anonymous said...

one more, from France Culture

Anonymous said...

@ Mitch: additional reading if you wish to go into the deep, PS-style

Mitch Guthman said...

I think Hollande needs to do two things right now:

First, he and Aubry must speak personally with every local leader of the PS in the area and also with every person of influence in the area who is on the left. They must stress the gravity of the situation and that it is possible the the future of Hollande's presidency is at stake. This is not the time for sending message. Every PS voter needs to vote on Sunday to support the president and to support the PS. All France will be watching.

Second, someone should speak with a friend of Falorni (if indeed the rotten bastard has a friend) and point out that Falorni is a young man with a bright future ahead of him; a future that will no doubt include many opportunities for advancement. Everyone is certain that, it having become clear that Florni is being cruelly and unwittingly used as the cat's paw by the UMP and the FN to damage his president, he will understand that withdrawing from the election is necessary for the common good. Naturally, such loyalty won't be forgotten because elephants have long memories. Very long memories and very big feet.

Mitch Guthman said...

@ anonymous,

Thanks for the link. I will read it tonight.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

This silly private bickering sounds like a smoke curtain and should really stop. The big story is that Sarko's judicial immunity ends in three hours from now.


Anonymous said...

Latest news: yesterday some Falorni supporters threw stones at Royal supporters. A poster claiming "Ici, c'est Falorni" was posted on Royal's door, leading to an official complaint, and the neighbor's door was "decorated" with tomato juice or tomato sauce.
Le Point followed Royal today and wasn't disapointed:

Can you imagine if she won, though?

Massilian said...

I link to this "old" post because I just found Bernard Debré's open letter to Valerie Trierweiler, from june 15th. It is imho a remarkable letter. I am amazed to see that no major media published it (or I skipped it...). If this is the case, I wonder why, even if I have an idea, but it is not a pleasant idea, it reminds me of the silence of the press dealing with celebs in other recent circumstances.