What a tale of two political 'scandals' says about the French elite

18 July 2022

6:57 PM

18 July 2022

6:57 PM

Two of Emmanuel Macron’s ministers were rebuked last week for words they had spoken in the past, but only one is fighting for their job: Caroline Cayeux, who is responsible for ‘territorial cohesion’. Last Tuesday, she was asked by the public senate if she regretted saying in 2013 that gay marriage ‘goes against nature’. Cayeux, a Catholic, said she stood by her words, though she was keen to stress that she had ‘a lot of friends among these people’.

Uproar ensued and two of her fellow ministers, Clément Beaune and Olivier Véran condemned her ‘anachronistic remarks’. On Thursday, a contrite Cayeux offered her sincere apologies if her ‘stupid and clumsy’ use of the phrase ‘these people’ had caused offence.

On Wednesday, it was the turn of Macron’s Interior Minister, Gérald Darmanin, to have his knuckles wrapped when two senators published their findings into the chaos at the Stade de France on the evening of May’s Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid. The violent scenes outside the stadium, broadcast around the world, were labelled a ‘national humiliation’ by opposition MPs, although Darmanin quickly pointed the finger of blame at Liverpool fans. He doubled down on that accusation two days later, alleging that as many as 30 or 40,000 English supporters had arrived with fake tickets and then battled with police. In fact, the troublemakers were gangs of youths from the area, who mugged English and Spanish fans, and climbed fences to access the stadium.

Darmanin’s comments, and his reputation, were rubbished in the senate report. One of its authors, Laurent Lafon, described Darmanin’s analysis as ‘not good’ and being ‘partial and imprecise’; he said that only a couple of thousand fake tickets had been in circulation.

The other senator, François-Noël Buffet, the president of the Commission of Laws, told the media that when Darmanin was initially interviewed by the senate inquiry his ‘first declarations did not correspond to the truth’.

Following publication of the senate report, Gilles Platret, vice president of the centre-right Republicans, demanded that Darmanin resign. So far, Darmanin has made no comment since the publication of the report. He is one of Macron’s most loyal lieutenants and his fidelity was rewarded last month when he kept his job in a government reshuffle following the poor showing of Macron’s party in the parliamentary elections.

During the presidential election campaign Macron styled himself as the decency candidate, the only person who could be trusted to uphold Republican values. It’s been a theme throughout his presidency. ‘The values of the Republic are not negotiable,’ he tweeted in 2020. ‘Our collective responsibility is to defend and promote them.’

So why hasn’t Macron sacked Darmanin following the release of the senate report? Perhaps truth and honesty are not the values Macron has mind. The values Macron means are actually tenets; specifically those that are the guiding philosophy of the Western liberal elite in the 21st Century: the desirability of Net Zero, LGBT rights and uncontrolled immigration. You can lie, cheat and traduce, and be forgiven, but you challenge those three liberal articles of faith at your peril.

Caroline Cayeux had discovered that. So, too, did Viktor Orban last summer when the Hungarian PM was attacked by Macron for passing a law that banned schools from promoting homosexuality.

The Yellow Vests also incurred Macron’s displeasure in 2018 when they demonstrated against the imposition of a green fuel tax. The protest movement was eventually crushed by brutal policing that left hundreds of men and women wounded, injuries that raised barely a murmur of protest from French liberals.

There has also been a muted reaction over the weekend to the fatal stabbing of three young men in the city of Angers. They had intervened on Friday evening when a man began sexually harassing a group of women.

In contrast, Caroline Cayeux has dominated the headlines over the weekend, with Le Monde describing her as an ‘embarrassment’ to the government. The leading Sunday paper, Le Journal Du Dimanche, published an open letter denouncing Cayeux, signed by 129 members of the liberal elite. Among the names was the former socialist PM Manuel Valls and several MPs from Cayeux’s party.

That Cayeux’s conduct has angered many of France’s leading lights more than Gerard Darmanin’s says much about their ethical hollowness. Her opinion is contentious but it is rooted in her faith; as a survey revealed in 2019, it is a view shared by 20 per cent of Catholics in France. The same survey found that 63 per cent of Muslims are opposed to homosexuality.

One may disagree with Cayeux’s belief but at least she was speaking honestly. The same cannot be said of Darmanin, who was evasive, deceitful and Anglophobic in his comments about that evening in May.

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