Joan Smith: Bye-bye Mr Bombastic, and 'bienvenue' to Mr Normal


Exactly a year ago, an event took place which would have a sensational impact on politics in France: Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the IMF, was arrested in New York on suspicion of rape. At the time, Strauss-Kahn was supremely confident, a former minister, and widely regarded as the Socialist Party's best hope of defeating Nicolas Sarkozy in this year's presidential election. Twelve months later, the fortunes of both men have taken a dramatic turn for the worse, while a relative unknown, François Hollande, has seized the top job.

Nobody would describe the President-elect as showy, like his predecessor, or a libertine in the DSK mould. I once met Hollande at the Socialist Party HQ in Paris and I certainly couldn't argue with his presentation of himself as "Mr Normal". Sarkozy began his term as president by embarking on a very public relationship with a supermodel, but his defeat last weekend confirmed that the country had had enough of his bombastic style.

Hollande shows signs that he's ready to break with the past in another way. For years he lived with the Socialist politician Ségolène Royal, and they have four children. They parted acrimoniously but Royal is confident of getting, and deserves, a big job in his administration. She ran against Sarkozy five years ago and lost; in pre-economic-crisis 2007, voters were beguiled by Sarkozy's brashness but it wasn't long before his extravagance and sexual boasting began to grate. He appointed women ministers but they failed to impress. One of them, Rachida Dati, was so insecure that she returned to work five days after giving birth.

For decades, the French knew next to nothing about their politicians' private lives. François Mitterrand maintained a second family, ignored by the press while he was president, and an atmosphere of excessive secrecy allowed politicians such as DSK to thrive. The rape charges in New York were finally dropped, but a French journalist accused him of trying to rape her in Paris in 2003, and the case was thrown out only on grounds of time. He's now been charged with "aggravated pimping" in a separate investigation in France.

Rumours about DSK had circulated in Paris for years, but most people outside politics were astounded by his arrest. Sarkozy went to the opposite extreme, letting the French public know much more than they ever wanted about his courtship and marriage, while his wife posed for the photographer Annie Leibovitz on the Elysée Palace roof. One of his ministers, Frédéric Mitterrand, turned out to have boasted in a book about his activities as a sex tourist.

For five years, sexual reticence was replaced by macho display, and voters didn't like it (or Sarkozy's handling of the economy) at all. Hollande's choice of a younger woman as his new partner is conventional but he seems genuinely committed to the principle of equality in public life. That, and the fact that he and Royal are willing to work together politically, promises a new era in terms of gender in France. The ousting of Sarkozy's bling-bling presidency by Mr Normal could be very good news for women in France.;

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Soho

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40000: SThree: As a Recruitment Consultant, y...

Grad / Trainee / Experienced Recruitment Consultant - Oil & Gas

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35,000. : SThree: Recruitment is a sales role...

Associate Recrutiment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well ...

Science Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Bristol: Teacher of Science KS3-4 for fixed ter...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Retail store Joy has sparked a social media backlash with its response to a customer who said one of its cards is offensive to people with bipolar  

Hey Joy, mocking people with bipolar isn't funny — it's offensive

Ellabell Risbridger

Ed Miliband is so scared of becoming Tony Blair he has forgotten how to communicate

Lance Price
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments