Cécile Dufflot wears two hats, and she is not afraid to use them. It’s been a busy week in the media for the new Minister of Housing and Territorial Equality (understandable most media outlets drop the second part of her title…). First she announces emergency measures to cap the increases in rents between tenancy agreements (by adopting the same index used to calculate year on year rent increases). Then yesterday she confirmed that the Greens still believed that cannabis should be treated like alcohol and tobacco and decriminalised.
Cue a media maelstrom on government splits and glee on the right that the end of civilization as we know it was imminent. But does it really matter?Dufflot’s position, which she explained was a personal one and one of her party (it was part of their published platform, although their Presidential candidate made little of it during the campaign) and that the government’s public position was different. Ayrault and Hollande are both clearly on record that, whilst the purely repressive approach to low level consumption of cannabis isn’t working (if proof were needed, a boy drowned in a river trying to escape this week after the police attempted to perform a stop-and-search for cannabis in Melun), they do not believe that a drug they regard as “dangerous” should be legalised.
Add to that the government’s new charter, which all ministers signed after their nomination, which in its first clause confirms that government ministers are free to air their views on issues which the government has yet to take a firm position on. Like legalising cannabis.
The UMP has released press releases decrying the moral destruction of society, claiming that the government is split and near collapse, and that the whole matter smacks of amateurism. The Prime Minister has distanced himself from the debate and the President has remained silent.
The matter is a non-event with regard to public policy – it is highly unlikely that there will be any major change to drugs policy in France, for the simply reason that no one really knows what to change (and the alternatives to repression appear to have fallen out of favour, even with the Socialists). But the story does tell us a lot about how the new government will handle the media – it seems hell-bent on largely ignoring them. Refusing to give much credence to the 24 hour news channels who are desperate for a bit of scandal to fill their ample airtime and ignoring the hysterical online polls that Lefigaro and Lemonde’s ludicrous online editions are so fond of, the deafening silence by the government on this issue is clearly designed not to feed the beast.
During Nicolas Sarkozy’s reign, the beast grew fat on backbiting comments from junior Ministers who were stamped on if they talked, briefed against by the President’s advisers (and sometimes the big man himself) and the eviction of those more independent and thoughtful minded figures such as Rama Yade and Chantal Jouaneau.
Under François Hollande, the beast may have to be content with a limited diet of gossip. For the outspoken nature of some government members, such as Dufflot and the Justice Minister, Christine Taubira, doesn’t appear to shock the PM or the President as much as it shocks the UMP.