French political update: surveillance, sex, and surveys

A quick look over the fall-out in French politics from DSK. Le Monde has a fascinating article on government surveillance of public figures’ sex lives. The most trivial point is that Strauss-Kahn had been allegedly caught frequenting prostitutes, but far more interestingly, this information had been swept up the police food-chain and delivered privately to the president’s desk and also to Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidential campaign, which leaked it to the press.

However, nobody thought it particularly newsworthy. Also, the surveillance continued, and various officials in the president’s office were in the habit of boasting about their access to intelligence on DSK’s sex life to journalists. But again, nobody seems to have found that newsworthy – and you do wonder what, exactly, they were sitting on. In a sense, this is another version of the conspiracy of silence. The people involved, a circle of police, spooks, and political operatives from the old days of the Balladur campaign, are exactly the same names who came up in the Woerth-Bettencourt affair. The point is made both that Nicolas Sarkozy made very sure to get the right people into key posts in the police-intelligence network and also that this is not new – the last three presidents have all been interior ministers.

(It may also be worth knowing that the poly/swinger scene is extensively monitored by the police, and various people are in the habit of passing lists of guests to the internal secret service.)

There’s more here, but you’d be a fool to assume that the damage will be confined to any one political party. For example, enter Georges Tron. Although he’s surely no DSK he is on the right, and his case also involves a complex score-settling with the FN over a real-estate scandal. (It’s not a proper scandal without property developers.) He’s gone, the fifth government minister to quit in 12 months.

So, what’s the upshot of all this at the macro level? Nouvel Observateur has a complex survey, laid out to illustrate the full set of cross-breaks. The upshot is that Sarkozy’s polls are still in the toilet – depending on who runs against him, he’s polling between 22 and 24.5%. The vote for the extreme Left has evaporated, while Marine Le Pen is running steadily a few points behind Sarkozy.

On the PS side, the volcanic eruption has had surprisingly little effect. The race is developing into a head-to-head between Hollande and Aubry, with Hollande holding the lead and also holding the best numbers in the head-to-heads with the other candidates. Either would beat Sarkozy, but Hollande would take the first round by 9 points and the second by twice that.

If all this doesn’t shift the polls, what will? Sarkozy might not stand for re-election. He’s suggested it before, but how willing to give up power is he really? Like a lot of politicians who enjoy being around entrepreneurs, he’s actually devoted his entire career to politics. That would have serious consequences – there is no obvious candidate and hardly even a plausible candidate, especially if Christine Lagarde moves to the IMF. And that now looks like the original racing certainty.

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