This is the question that presidential advisers in Elysées Palace must be asking themselves this afternoon. For Valerie Trierweiler, François Hollande’s partner, has weighed in, wholly unnecessarily, to a political, but above all personal, dispute with none other than her predecessor, Hollande’s former partner, Segolene Royal.
Royale and Hollande famously broke up during the 2007 presidential campaign, when Hollande was Socialist party chairman and Royal was its presidential candidate. Relations between them were glacial for a number of years, however in the run-up to Hollande’s clinching of the presidential nomination in 2011, Royal appeared to forgive him for his previous indiscretions and wholeheartedly supported his candidacy.
Relations remained difficult however with Trierweiler, the other woman during the 2011 campaign. Trierweiler is now the first unmarried partner of a French President to accompany him into the Elysées. A journalist, previously covering the Socialist party for Paris Match, she continues to take an interest in all matters political. She is also known for being fiercely defensive of Hollande (in particular is right to maintain some segments of private life). She and Royal have done their best to avoid each other, putting on the occasional display of unity, shaking hands for the cameras, faint smiles and suchlike. Trierweiler gets on well with Hollande and Royal’s children, but has privately shown little interest in helping Royal rebuild her national political career (even if, and it’s a big “if”, these might favour the new President’s political position).
Royal found herself this week embroiled in a soap-opera-like a battle with a socialist dissident, Olivier Falorni, who had hoped to clinch a nomination for the safe constituency seat of La Rochelle due to his long local service on the council. Instead, at the eleventh hour, Royal was parachuted into the seat by the central party (technically in breach of party rules which require a primary vote for opposing candidates). Falorni ran in the first round anyway, and was expelled from the party in the process. He did well and came in second place to Royal, trailing by only three points. He and Royal now face each other in a bizarre run-off next Sunday.
Given right-wing opposition to Royal (she is despised, for what, it is not entirely clear, by local UMP bigwigs, like former ministers Dominique Bussereau and Jean-Pierre Raffarin), it’s entirely possible that she will lose, and her opponent win thanks to right wing votes. Royale has been accused by some in La Rochelle of using them as a trampoline to the presidency of the National Assembly (she has openly declared her candidacy), and not having much interest in the voters of the town, despite it sitting in a region which she has run since 2004.
This morning Martine Aubry, Socialist party boss, and Cecile Duflot, leader of the Greens and new Minister of Housing, were dispatched to La Rochelle on a demonstration of support for Royal. In the middle of this well orchestrated media campaign, Trierweiler tweeted that she was supporting Falorni, and praised him for his long service. Trierweiler once joked that Hollande trusted her totally, apart from what she said on twitter. It would seem he was right.
Cue embarrassed looks and no comment responses from a furious Aubry and Duflot, and a flurry of embarrassed Presidential advisers, exasperated that Trierweiler had gone rogue so soon (it was always thought she would at some point). The UMP has scarcely concealed its glee at this politico-familial melt-down in the middle of an election campaign which was supposed to be satisfyingly dull and lead to the confirmation of last Sunday’s result.
The UMP is banking on this incident creating a narrative of party chaos and incompetence. This incident on its own is unlikely to do that, memories are short, and many French voters don’t care what the First Lady thinks about anything, least of all a little local difficulty in coastal resort. But what is essential now is the Socialists bury the story.
That means sacrificing Royal. She is now a laughingstock, and cannot, and should not, be saved. No further visits should be made, or statements of support given. If Royal wins, the story is over. If Royal loses, the story is over. In a choice between the First Lady and the First Ex-Partner, the former is closer to the Pres and therefore more important to the future of the socialist government. Perhaps Hollande has already realized that.