Embattled French president Francois Hollande has reached out to his people on live television, in a bid to reverse plunging polls that show him to be one of the most unpopular leaders in his country’s history.
But after a 45-minute grilling on a prime-time news programme, even France’s left-wing newspapers branded the Socialist a “DIY president” who had failed to prove he was in control.
The TV interview came hours after glamorous French actress Julie Gayet, 40, announced she had launched legal action over internet rumours that she was having an affair with him.
Ten months into his presidency, Mr Hollande is facing attacks from all sides that he has failed to keep his manifesto promises to cut unemployment and reduce the ballooning public deficit. Figures this week showed households’ spending power fell in late 2012 for the first time since 1984 and that jobless figures rose for a 22nd straight month to 10.6 per cent – the highest level since 1997.
His popularity rating has slid faster and lower than any other modern French president to 22 per cent, meaning he is liked by only half as many people as his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy at his most unpopular.
To make things worse, Mr Hollande’s main election pledge, to tax all earnings over €1 million (£850,000) at 75 per cent, has been thrown out by France’s constitutional court. But it hasn’t stopped a flood of high-profile millionaires, including actor Gerard Depardieu and France’s richest man, Bernard Arnault, fleeing abroad to “wealth-friendly” countries.
The TV interview was part of two-day charm offensive, in which the president toured France to meet mainly factory workers and farmers.
Even that trip backfired when one heckler asked what had become of campaign pledges, and another was carted off by police.
His TV appearance was condemned as “often bland, almost banal” by left-wing daily Liberation, which called him a DIY president after Mr Hollande insisted “all the tools were out” to fix the economy. The paper added: “He disappointed the many people who wanted not a puff but rather a blast of anger over economic hardship and the distress felt by society’s most vulnerable people.”
The Communist newspaper L’Humanite said: “Mr Hollande did not indicate the slightest flexibility in his political course despite strong disapproval among left-wing voters.”
Political commentator Alain Duhamel said: “Hollande’s problem is that he talks all the time, but we don’t hear him.”
The president acknowledged during his TV interview that people didn’t like him, saying: “Of course there’s a part of the country that doesn’t appreciate me, but that’s democracy. I want my country to succeed and I have thick skin and a clear head. I am battle-ready and I am leading the army. I’m marching ahead.”
But news magazine Le Point said of that remark: “His challenge was not to master communication, but to show that he can govern”.
Mr Hollande’s presidency has also been blighted by the massive unpopularity of his girlfriend, Valerie Trierweiler, who has been accused of abandoning her Socialist principles for a life of “luxury and frivolity”.
Weekly news magazine VSD said she was “indifferent” to the plight of millions of struggling families as she cavorted with the nation’s wealthy elite. It wrote: “While thousands of French are fighting to avoid redundancy, she attends fashion shows. This woman who professed to be ‘socialist to her soul’ seems to prefer supporting the one industry that has no need of her help – the luxury fashion world.
“It sends out a very mixed message to the millions of voters who elected her partner to office hoping for a change in morals and mentality.”