"Hollande proceeded to jolt his dwindling ranks of the faithful with an abrupt u-turn to pro-business and cost-cutting measures." Photo: Getty Images
Jilted. Jolted. Screwed. And so on and on. There are so many terms that could be used to describe Francois Hollande's relationship with the population of France now. I never thought it was possible to (insert preferred term here) 64 million people all at the same time, but I was badly wrong. I underestimated Hollande's capacity to (insert preference) people on a scale that was both theatrical and industrial.
On Tuesday, an army of about 600 journalists greeted President Hollande when he held a press conference to announce his plans to turn the French economy around from its economic stagnation. The country's unemployment rate is at a 15-year high of almost 11 per cent, with chronic youth unemployment, declining living standards, de-industrialisation, investment flight, a falling credit rating, enormous public sector liabilities, debt and deficit which dwarf those in Australia, and loss of trust in the President. All this is reflected in approval ratings which have been the lowest recorded by French opinion polling.
Hollande proceeded to jolt his dwindling ranks of the faithful with an abrupt u-turn to pro-business and cost-cutting measures that repudiate his Socialist Party rhetoric since he took office 18 months ago.
Shocking as that may be, it was not why an inordinate number of journalists had turned up for the twice-yearly presidential press conference. The key phrase here was ''loss of trust''.
As the President spoke - and batted away questions about his private life - the first lady of France, or first partner, Valerie Trierweiler, was recovering after being hospitalised for nervous exhaustion. Last Friday, she discovered Hollande had been engaged in ornate and structural infidelity, courtesy of a seven-page spread in a celebrity gossip magazine, Closer, which detailed the double life the President had been living with an actress, Julie Gayet. Their relationship even required the assistance of state security.
The distraught Ms Trierweiler, a 48-year-old, Sorbonne-educated, mother-of-three, mistress-turned-girlfriend, is a practising journalist with her own office and staff at the presidential palace. She began seeing Hollande when she was married and he was living with Segolene Royal, 60, the mother of his four children, who he never married.
When Ms Royal sought to be the Socialist Party's leader and presidential candidate in 2007, Hollande, who was then first secretary of the Socialist Party, supported a rival candidate. Royal prevailed despite this and won her party's leadership but lost the 2007 presidential election. She has intimated she believes Hollande damaged her presidential bid.
At the next election, in 2012, it was Hollande, 59, who sought and won the Socialist Party leadership. He then defeated the deeply unpopular president Nicolas Sarkozy in the presidential election.
As he moved up the power chain, Hollande swapped a woman his own age, Ms Royal, for a 48-year-old broadcaster, Ms Trierweiler, then moved on to a 41-year-old actress, Ms Gayet.
He is the second Socialist Party president of France after Francois Mitterrand, who also maintained a structural infidelity, which was accompanied by the silence of the French media. While secrecy about marital affairs is part of the cultural bubble of the French political, administrative and media elite, the French public, by an overwhelming majority, as reflected in opinion polls, have rejected Hollande's claim that he had a right to privacy over the matters raised, in forensic detail, by Closer.
The chances of the French trusting him again to run the country are remote, unless in 2017 he has the good fortune of the conservative side of politics choosing the hard-right National Front leader to contest the presidency. Hollande's predecessor in the Elysee Palace, Nicolas Sarkozy, tried to reform the French public sector and was widely loathed by the 2012 election. But after Hollande began acting on his campaign rhetoric, the French economy promptly stagnated and his approval rating sunk to 26 per cent within his first year in office. His poll numbers continue to flat-line.
On Tuesday, Hollande announced he was turning to a range of what he called ''supply-side'' policies, which included deep spending cuts, reforming the labour laws, and lowering company taxes. This left the French Socialists feeling like Ms Trierweiler.
Overall, the commentary has been cynical about Hollande's ability to tackle the sclerosis of the public sector, which now consumes 56 per cent of gross domestic product. No matter what he promises, France is expected to endure a significant cut in its standard of living on his watch, and few people trust Hollande to acknowledge the truth as to why.