Bland and beautiful: France looks to left
AS Socialists across France nurse their hangovers this morning, a new victorious first couple are preparing to take up residence in the Elysee Palace.
Francois Hollande -- once the butt of jokes -- has emerged as a tough operator, driven by a childhood conviction of his destiny to be French president and by his equally tough partner, and new first lady, Valerie Trierweiler.
Bespectacled, earnest, mild-mannered and bland, the Socialist candidate has been ridiculed by the press, on the left and the right, for being "wishy-washy" and preferring consensus to confrontation in a country which likes its politicians to have elan and character.
Satirical cartoonists have depicted Mr Hollande (57) as a Flanby, a mass-produced creme caramel that wobbles comically when tipped from its plastic mould on to the plate.
Mr Hollande, however, flanked by the glamorous Ms Trierweiler (47), has successfully battled the insults, defeating his rival and his high-profile wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy.
Underneath her trademark sunglasses, Ms Trierweiler has looks that have been compared by 'Vogue' magazine to the "sly charm" of Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart's Hollywood leading lady.
The new first lady eschews the trappings of celebrity and fame and has vowed to continue her career as a journalist, becoming the first working first lady in French history.
It was she who woke Mr Hollande to tell him of Dominique Strauss-Kahn's arrest on alleged sexual assault charges in New York last year. With the fall of the previous presidential front-runner, Mr Hollande has not looked back.
The president-elect, born in 1954 in Bois-Guillaume, a middle-class suburb of Rouen in northern France, had a difficult childhood. Georges Hollande, his father, was a doctor involved in extreme right-wing politics and prone to harsh and whimsical treatment of his two sons.
Mr Hollande's education took him to the elite Ecole Nationale d'Administration, where he joined the ranks of "enarques" who run the French state and form the highest cadre of the political class. There, in 1978, he met Segolene Royal, forging a political and romantic partnership that was to last 27 years, a period when the couple became two of the most powerful figures in the Socialist Party.
In 1981, when Francois Mitterrand swept to power, Mr Hollande was sent by him to challenge Jacques Chirac in the parliamentary seat of Correze.
Mr Chirac, who trounced him in the election, quipped: "They send me an opponent no more well-known than President Mitterrand's labrador."
Unusually, the ambitious young Socialist did not return to Paris, choosing instead to stay in the provincial backwater for seven years before winning the seat in 1988. He was re-elected in 1997, 2002 and 2007. In a twist of fate, and as a reward for Mr Hollande's doggedness, Mr Chirac defied tribal politics to back him in the 2012 presidential race.
Mr Hollande could have taken on Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007 but chose instead to stay in the background, allowing his partner Ms Royal to try her luck. His discipline was such that he and Ms Royal, with whom he had four children, kept the break-up of their relationship secret until the vote was over. He had already left her for Ms Trierweiler.
Under her tutelage, he lost 22lb in politically unpalatable podginess and adopted thinner-framed glasses.
SHRUGGING off the insults of his comrades and showing a new steely competence, Mr Hollande triumphed. Despite the makeover, Mr Hollande has not been able to shed his true political character as a technocrat, albeit one who has learnt to empathise with voters. He has the ability to evoke the legacies of the French Revolution and the resistance. But he is quickly bogged down in technical detail and prone to hackneyed phrases and jargon.
Again, fate has been kind. Mr Hollande has been able to use his defects to give the impression of being more presidential than the erratic Mr Sarkozy.
After a life of quietly swallowing the insults, Mr Hollande's childhood destiny has arrived. (© Daily Telegraph, London)