PARIS — While economic gloom drives President Francois Hollande’s own poll ratings into the doldrums, his interior minister’s tough line on crime is making him France’s most popular politician.
Images of the tough-talking Manuel Valls racing around the country to round up radical Islamist cells or nab corrupt cops contrast with the failing efforts of Hollande’s government to halt a spate of industrial lay-offs.
As long as Valls does not appear as a rival to Hollande, his popularity is proving vital political ballast to a young left-wing government which conservative and far-right rivals would prefer to paint as soft on crime.
“If people feel the person tasked with embodying security and public order is what they are looking for, then so much the better,” Valls said in the southern port city of Marseille last week after dismantling a police unit where 15 officers are being held on suspicion of drugs trafficking and extortion.
Three separate opinion polls in the past two weeks rate Valls as France’s most popular politician and rising, as his no-nonsense manner plays well among voters on the right and left who are feeling disempowered, angry or broke.
Rise in approval
His approval ratings have risen as high as 57 per cent, while Hollande’s have slumped to as little as 41 per cent. His role is all the more crucial given that delinquency has shot up the list of French concerns to third place after health and jobs.
One French news magazine dubbed Valls “vice president” – a position that does not exist in France. Others cite him as a possible future prime minister.
Valls, 50, has even drawn comparisons with Hollande’s conservative predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, who used the high-profile interior minister job to sideline cabinet rivals and ultimately succeed Jacques Chirac as president. (Reuters)