France In The Hollande Presidency

Hollande

France In The Hollande Presidency – The Unhappy Republic
By John Gaffney
Palgrave Macmillan – £63.00

In the immediate aftermath of his presidential victory in May 2012, the dominant media cliché and general public reaction was that Francois Hollande did not win the presidential election […] Nicolas Sarkozy lost it. It was a cliché but no less true for that.
(‘The Normal President v. the Hyper President: Self- definition as Antithesis’)

[…] his tie continuing always to slide to the right, rather cheap-looking shoes of which he seemed only to possess one pair, the ponderous yet halting speech.
(‘Conclusion: Character and Performance in French Presidentialism’)

By half way through Hollande’s presidency, there was a generalised sense that the whole political class was as arrogant as it was ineffective as it was corrupt.
(‘The Second Year, Presidential Character under Siege’)

Having reached the conclusion of this most insightful and readable of books on French Politics, Society and Culture, I couldn’t help but think, who, in their absolute right of mind, would really want to go into politics?

Clearly tinged with overt, nefarious narcissism, today’s political world doesn’t fall that short of an inflammatory bull-pit, strewn with both inexorable and unconscionable one-up-manship.

If the third of the above opening gambits weren’t enough to put anyone off going into politics, there’s more: ”It is systematic, and the republic is dysfunctional. The personalisation of politics and the associated coteries, sycophancy, back-stabbing and permanent intra-party strife seemed to take over the functioning of the Fifth Republic. All the parties lost support. By mid-2014, the atmosphere was not just one of a fin de régne, but sometimes of a fin de regime, as the Fifth Republic slid towards crisis.”

I should imagine it’s bad enough having to be the former head of BHS right now (I cannot even bring myself to write his name, let alone prefix it with the word, Sir), but upon reading this most analytical of books, the strife and stress that French President, Francois Hollande is still going through, must surely be incalculable. Other than France In The Hollande Presidency – The Unhappy Republic setting a cultural tonality that isn’t enviable in the least, it does nevertheless shed a whole lot of translucent light on the Fifth Republic itself, which, as Florence Faucher (Professor of Political Science, Sciences Po, Centre d’etudes européenes) states, is no mean feat: ”Through a detailed analysis of the public performance of Hollande’s first two and a half years as French President, Gaffney seizes the opportunity to explore the very peculiarly personalised dimension of the Fifth Republic presidency. He uses his in depth knowledge of France’s political culture and history to offer the reader a highly original and stimulating reflection on the symbolic dimension of contemporary political leadership.”

Indeed, John Gaffney, who is himself a Professor of Politics at Aston University (Birmingham, England) has indeed herein, written a book that is as refreshing to read as it is perhaps robust to perhaps come to terms with.

Reason being, ever since having taken over the reigns of the French presidency from Nicolas Sarkozy in 2012, there appears to have been no let up for Hollande, which Gaffney punctuates at the outset of Chapter Two: ”Whatever the condition of his election, Hollande could have begun his presidency with great confidence. Instead, for at least a year after his election […] his own self-definition was to be, in all the ways he thought the case – which was as often not, not the case – a kind of fetishised antithesis of Nicolas Sarkozy: moral as opposed to amoral, modest as opposed to bling and brash, reserved as opposed to omnipresent, ‘(self) satisfied’ as opposed to ‘driven,’ ‘concertative’ as opposed to confrontational […].”

Fraught with tumultuous turmoil, from that of a personal as well as political persuasion, Hollande, to my mind at least, remains at the vanguard of having to not only deal with modern day terrorism, but a self-serving, well-equipped National Front; which, since the recent Nice atrocity, is now (understandably) gaining more and more of a foothold in everyday French political life (which should perhaps read as strife).

France In The Hollande Presidency – The Unhappy Republic is an illuminating, yet at times, shocking account of the current French Presidency. For this alone, it’s a very valuable and dare I say it, trust worthy, stimulating read.

David Marx

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