Forgive me if I sound a touch complacent at the news that Francois Hollande has fallen on his sword. In announcing on Thursday night that he won’t be seeking re-election in the spring, Holland has become the first president in the 58-year history of the Fifth Republic to make such a decision.
It was the right one. The wrong one was made by all those millions of French men and women four and a half years ago who gave Hollande their vote. I remember well the evening of 6 May. I went out for supper with a friend and on the metro home I passed through Solferino, the station closest to the Socialist HQ in Paris. Hordes of exultant young Socialists boarded the metro, intoxicated with victory, their eyes bright with triumph. They were still singing and cheering when I alighted, and the jubilation continued for days. I was a little more sceptical, writing in my diary that night: ‘It was a vote against [Nicolas] Sarkozy rather than a vote for Hollande, an affable but mediocre Socialist. He’s promised an end to austerity; I look forward to seeing how he achieves that.’
Ending austerity was just one of the pledges Hollande made when he addressed thousands of supporters in the Place de la Bastille in Paris on the evening of 6 May .’I am the president of the youth of France! I am the president of all the collective pride of France!’ he thundered. ‘Carry this message far! Remember for the rest of your life this great gathering at the Bastille because it must give a taste to other peoples, to the whole of Europe, of the change that is coming. In all the capitals, beyond government leaders and state leaders, there are people who, thanks to us, are hoping, are looking to us and want to put an end to austerity.’
It’s hard not to laugh on re-reading those words.