Prime Minister Manuel Valls: the Socialist former 'top cop' admired by France's right

Manuel Valls has consistently topped polls as nation's favourite politician

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 April, 2014, 9:28pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 April, 2014, 4:10am


France's new Prime Minister Manuel Valls is the most popular Socialist politician in the country, or at least he is with almost everyone except a sizeable chunk of his own party.

As approval ratings plummeted for the rest of France's Socialist government over the course of its first two years in office, the good-looking interior minister was almost alone in defying the trend.

At ease with journalists and a natural in front of the television cameras, the Barcelona-born 51-year-old won respect from voters across the political spectrum with his dynamic approach to a job often described as being "France's top cop".

His tough-talking on crime and insecurity made him every right-wing voter's favourite leftist.

That style and his politics have drawn comparisons with former British prime minister Tony Blair - which is far from being a compliment for many on the French left.

"He only hears with his right ear," quipped Pierre Laurent, the National Secretary of the French Communist Party on hearing of Valls' promotion on Monday.

Valls came under heavy fire last October following the deportation of a 15-year-old Roma girl and her family to Kosovo, after she was taken off a bus in the middle of a school trip.

Accusing police of violating her rights, critics rounded on the minister, demanding his resignation. But polls showed that the overwhelming majority of voters backed him and he retained the confidence of President Francois Hollande, with whom he is personally close.

Friends and colleagues alike describe Valls as an abrasive character. Cecile Duflot, the Green minister who has announced that she will not be part of his new government, famously could not stand him and nicknamed him Pepe after a particularly stubborn Spanish boy who features in one of the Asterix stories.

But there also appears to be a warmer and charismatic side to his personality.

"He says things with a certain honesty, a certain clearness, and yes, sometimes a certain roughness," said Alain Bauer, a prominent French criminologist and friend of Valls since their student days.

"He has vitality, dynamism, energy - and that rallies people around him.

"When I hear people saying the president should be worried, I think it is stupid. There is no one more loyal than Manuel."

Valls has consistently topped opinion polls as France's favourite politician, although the approval ratings of up to 70 per cent he enjoyed last year have slipped recently as a result of the tough stance he took in trying to ban anti-Semitic comedian Dieudonne M'bala M'bala.

That hit his standing with supporters of Dieudonne and the country's influential free-speech campaigners, but he remains much admired by most voters.

A survey for Elle magazine last year revealed one in five French ladies liked the idea of a "torrid affair" with the twice-married minister - a finding that delighted his glamorous second wife, the professional violinist Anne Gravoin.

"Manuel absolutely deserves it - and a lot more besides," she said at the time. "He's a very loveable man."