François Fillon, faithful Frenchman and respectable son of Sarthe, was targeted. By whom, exactly, no one knows.
His overwhelming win of the LR — Les Républicains — primary was unexpected. His victory in the 2017 French presidential election, however, is not meant to be.
We don’t know why, but a grand plan was put in place to take him down.
This has upset many French voters who were not members of LR but who paid €3 to be allowed to vote in the party’s primary in November 2016. People queued up for hours. Polling stations ran out of ballots. I watched the coverage on BFMTV. Everyone was amazed.
In the end, Alain Juppé was dead in the water. Fillon won handily on November 20 with approximately two-thirds of the vote — a historic record of 1.8m votes, according to Marianne (25 November – 1 December 2016, ‘Comment Fillon a fait sa révolution conservatrice‘, p.27).
This wasn’t supposed to happen. At the end of October, Marianne had three articles on Juppé but none on Fillon.
I was hopeful, because I like Fillon. Thanks to a number of people I knew from Sarthe and Anjou many years ago, I think they are the most trustworthy in France.
I didn’t think anything more about his candidacy until the scandals began to emerge in January 2017.
He was in pole position and, left alone, could easily have taken down Emmanuel Macron.
The aforementioned article from Marianne quotes Fillon as saying (p. 27):
For months and months, I ploughed my furrow, calmly, seriously, with a precise and powerful plan.
A friend said that when Fillon won:
He was very calm, not euphoric. But he told me he never thought he would win by such a huge majority.
Marianne called his victory a ‘tidal wave’, adding (p. 27):
‘Mr Nobody’ became someone surfing the crest of the good old traditional bourgeois Right.
Writer and pundit Denis Tillinac explained (p. 28):
The Fillon vote is a vote of synthesis. It’s a provincial coming from the middle class. It is culturally Catholic with nothing else added. It is liberal but from a Gaullist past. It is discreet about its private life. It is more right-wing than Juppé but less brutal than Sarkozy.
The Marianne article that followed, ‘François Thatcher et Margaret Fillon‘ (pp 30-31) found a number of similarities in policy between the Iron Lady and the former French prime minister.
The next, ‘Le Candidat des Cathos‘ (pp. 32-33) described how Fillon coalesced the LR base, uniting them in a way that became apparent only last September, ‘to little fanfare’, Marianne said (p. 32):
Sens commun, the LR movement close to La manif pour tous, announced its endorsement of François Fillon … this decision surprised those who are closely familiar with the history of the movement.
François Fillon, methodical and determined, patiently spun his web amidst the Catholic middle ground.
For instance, he said that, although the law on abortion was unlikely to change, he, personally, did not approve of the procedure. He also made speeches to Catholic audiences during which he expressed profound empathy for the plight of Christians in the Middle East.
I had also seen on BFMTV that Fillon would not rule out a Frexit referendum, although it was not part of his manifesto.
On the other side of the equation, Marianne featured several articles and editorials in the run-up to Christmas, criticising François Hollande for failing the French in his pledges for social reform. They reminded readers that back in 2012, under his presidency, terrorism would disappear. And, they asked, whatever happened to Hollande’s ‘vivre ensemble‘? In the aforementioned issue, Guy Konopnicki, a longtime Marianne editorialist, wrote (p. 55):
The Right might be reactionary, but to cry wolf now would be in vain, as these past five years have discredited and even ridiculed what we know as progressivism.
I read that and thought that Macron’s close association with Hollande would surely show him to be tarnished by the same brush. After all, he had served as economics minister. Never mind that Macron’s movement is called En Marche and that he is not the Socialist candidate. It’s guilt by association.
Speaking of Socialists, Marianne‘s 2 to 8 December 2016 issue had an amusing insider piece on Manuel Valls, ‘Le jour ou Valls a choisi de croire Hollande‘ (pp 22-24). On Monday, November 28 (p. 22):
According to our information, the tenant of Matignon was absolutely determined to hand in his resignation to François Hollande at mid-day.
Valls had already told the first secretary of the PS, Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, of his intention to stand in the PS primary. Cambadélis’s reaction was not what Valls expected; he urged caution against taking an ‘irreversible’ step. That got Valls’s back up further and, on November 28, he planned a staff meeting late in the day at which he was going to state that he had resigned. (Incidentally, Cambadélis had a scheduled meeting with Hollande and was in the president’s office when Valls arrived at the Elysée (p. 23).)
When Valls entered Hollande’s office for his routine 12:30 meeting, he was immediately on the back foot. The atmosphere was decidedly frosty. Marianne says that Hollande gave Valls the impression he was going to stand again.
I remember reading in 2012 that Hollande is good at mind games, especially liar’s poker. He’s been doing this all his life. Some say his mother taught him to think that way.
No sooner had the two sat down than Valls said (p. 23):
I will not stand against you as a candidate in the primary.
Hollande then went on a calculated attack. The day before, Sunday, he was in Madagascar for a French-speaking summit. However, he was aware of an interview Valls gave to the Journal de Dimanche (JDD) which appeared the same day. In it, Valls hinted strongly that he wanted to be a candidate.
In fact, such was Valls’s tone that several higher-ups in the PS suggested that he be replaced forthwith as prime minister with Bernard Cazeneuve. Hollande ruled it out completely. It was better to keep Valls and watch him squirm. Marianne pointed out (p. 23):
At Matignon, Valls is tied up; there is no question of firing him [thereby] giving him his liberty.
Hollande replied dryly to Valls’s announcement about not running:
That’s not what I understood from reading your interview.
At 1:00, the two had lunch in the Elysée. Hollande changed his tone. He told Valls how important it was for both of them to be statesmanlike and not create ‘institutional divisions’ in such ‘difficult, “historic” circumstances’, now that Fillon had won the LR primary (p. 23). Hollande spoke of the enormous and many obstacles that faced a PS candidate in the forthcoming election. He went on to reassure Valls that it would be his turn ‘eventually’ (p. 24).
Valls left to return to Matignon, mulling things over on the way. Hollande never said if he was going to run. Valls dismissed the idea of running himself. By 2:45 p.m., he was furious. He knew how Hollande’s mind worked and all of his strategies. He had been duped (p. 24):
Fury … towards himself … His plan, so carefully thought out, never got off the ground. In front of his colleagues, Manuel Valls couldn’t hide his rage.
Valls resigned as prime minister on December 6 to enter the PS primary. Bernard Cazeneuve, minister of the interior (Beauvau), did indeed succeed him at Matignon.
On January 22, Valls came second to Benoît Hamon, the minister for national education, in the first round of the PS primary.
He lost to Hamon again on January 29.
Hmm. I think Cambadélis was right. Valls should have stayed where he was. Furthermore, he never should have given that type of interview to the JDD. Both rubbed the PS the wrong way.
And so, Hamon became the PS candidate, and a sluggish one at that.
But I digress. Back to Fillon.
Of course, Marianne — following Big Media’s international narrative de nos jours — was not above linking conservative Fillon to Russia. The same issue from early December featured an article, ‘Francois Fillon et son “cher Vladimir“‘ (pp 14-15), which, despite the title, reported fairly:
They met during Franco-Russian summits. They worked on sensitive dossiers, such as the sale of the Mistral to the Russian army. And they share a passion for extreme sports. Between Fillon and Putin, it’s more or less a man’s business.
Marianne‘s reporter talked to a former Fillon adviser, Jean de Boishue, a descendant of White Russians (p. 14). He said (p. 15):
Chirac was much more [a Russophile] than he [Fillon].
Fillon looked at Russia as a great power and inevitable partner.
It is true that Fillon called Putin ‘cher Vladimir’, but such was the close working relationship that Matignon had with the Kremlin during Fillon’s stint as prime minister under Nicolas Sarkozy.
Jean de Boishue remembered an exchange between the two in May 2012, just before Hollande took office (p. 15):
‘Tell me, Vladimir, what are you doing supporting that bastard Bachar who is tormenting the Syrian people?’
‘And, you, François, can you tell me who these people are who oppose Bachar? As I do not know who is setting Syria alight, I’ll side with Bachar.’
Such a frank conversational tone shows the rapport between the two men. Marianne reported that this continued after Fillon left office (p. 15):
After he left Matignon, Vladimir Putin continued to support Fillon, seeing him as relief from the French Right. For example, he sent him a present immediately after his mother died and had him as a guest at his dacha outside Moscow when he was no longer a minister.
The article concluded with a final word from Jean de Boishue who said that Fillon never set foot inside the Bolshoi. That was Jacques Chirac, who exclaimed (p. 15):
When are they ever going to drain that blasted Swan Lake!
A few pages later in the same issue, was an article called ‘Bal des Pénitents‘ (pp. 32-33). It concerned Fillon’s support from LR MPs, who declined to support him in the primary but, now that he’s their candidate, were desperate to show their support. The article begins with a quote from Fillon adviser Bernard Accoyer:
Jesus Christ converted fewer people in the world than François Fillon has in one week!
Taking all of this into consideration, what wasn’t to like politically or socially about Fillon? Surely, he would ascend to the world stage being photographed alongside Theresa May and Donald Trump.
Or so I thought.
Then, the unexpected happened.
Oddly, no sooner had Le Canard enchaîné reported the first scandal about Penelope Fillon’s ‘fictitious employment’ as her husband’s parliamentary assistant on January 25, than the preliminary hearing began. Various commentators on RMC’s political talk shows have pointed out that this is highly unusual. It normally takes weeks, if not months.
Fillon calmly stated publicly that it was a pity these allegations had not come out sooner. Indeed. Why not during the primary? The investigation is covering all sorts of things from 1998 to 2013.
Why didn’t this ever have come out earlier in his career? These allegations have never been brought up until now.
I heard Fillon supporters call in to express their upset with the investigations some weeks later on RMC’s Les Grandes Gueules on Monday, March 6. The show’s panel asked the same questions. Even though their political sympathies are on the left, they said that most French parliamentarians employ spouses or family members. The law has changed somewhat in recent years, but the practice continues. Aren’t most French politicians doing the same thing?
Some of RMC’s panellists and listeners have expressed their empathy towards Fillon and his family. They said that living through this day in and day out must be taking its toll on the Fillons mentally and perhaps physically.
Penelope Fillon is an intensely private person. What must she be going through right now?
Fillon was initially seen to be a front-runner.
A book had just been published either that day or the day before on that subject. Bienvenue Place Beauvau — where the Interior Minister’s offices are — describes what could very well be a cabinet noir that targets specially selected individuals for investigation. Even though two journalists from Le Canard enchaîné co-authored it with another journalist, they clearly point the finger at François Hollande as being the creator of this stealthy, shadowy network.
One of the co-authors, Christophe Labbé, appeared on Les Grandes Gueules on March 24. He thought it laughable that Fillon was a victim of a cabinet noir. Someone asked him how his colleagues at Le Canard enchaîné got their information about Fillon. He said simply that they are good investigative journalists.
On an earlier edition of Les Grandes Gueules, someone said that Le Canard enchaîné received an address book and a large folder of information about Fillon. From whom? No one knew. No one knows today.
For the next two weeks, panellists and callers asked why it is always the same two agencies getting involved with these targeted cases — not just Fillon’s — the judicial police and the tax office. They seem to be working hand-in-glove with each other.
On March 28, The Spectator reported:
The President’s justice minister, Jean-Jacques Urvoas, reacted angrily to the allegations, describing them ‘as fantastical as they are peculiar’. Pointing out that ‘intercepted communications are part of investigations carried out at the discretion of independent magistrates,’ Urvoas accused Fillon of ‘at best pure speculation and at worst a desire to manipulate reality’.
The cynic might wonder if the one manipulating reality isn’t Urvoas. After all, French presidents have a history of wire-tapping, going back to François Mitterrand, described by Hollande at an event last October to mark the centenary of his birth as ‘an exceptional Frenchman’ and a man who ‘never allowed himself to be discouraged’.
And, as The Spectator pointed out, clearly above the law himself. But, we mustn’t forget that Mitterand was Hollande’s mentor. Hollande was an appreciative and diligent student. He entered politics in Mitterand’s administration and never looked back.
Eric Ciotti (LR), president of the general council of the Alpes-Maritimes, said on March 28 on RMC’s Les Grandes Gueules, that Fillon’s campaign stopped on January 24, 2017. He added that it is impossible for Fillon to conduct a campaign if he and his family are facing new allegations almost daily. Ciotti thought these would continue right up to the first round of voting.
Ciotti was measured with his words but was no doubt disgusted that Fillon was lagging behind in third place in the polls because of these machinations. Talk turned to speculation as to who was behind them. Ciotti stayed out of that. Someone said that it was the Socialists. The show’s host was sure it was Sarkozy, the reasoning being that if he couldn’t have the nomination the LR candidate shouldn’t win the presidency. Ciotti silenced everyone by saying that any speculation was deeply unhelpful.
These allegations, dossiers and all the rest can help the other candidates in equal measure. Regardless of who is responsible — Le Canard enchaîné‘s source or a cabinet noir or maybe both — Macron and Marine Le Pen stand to benefit the most come the first round of polling.
I’m very disappointed. And again, I say, pauvre Fillon! He would have made an exceptional French president, the sort the world has not seen since De Gaulle.