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Political Column: A forlorn celebration

A 60th birthday is normally a big event for serving public figures, a time to review the past and look confidently to the future.In President François Hollande's case, however, it was a low-key jubilee. And it was marred by an opinion poll a few days later concluding that more than 80 per cent of the French had no confidence in him or his government.

The poll, by IFOP for the Journal du Dimanche, showed that only 15 per cent of voters believed that the government stood a chance of reducing France's unemployment rate. In his first New Year's address to ring in 2013, Hollande promised to reduce "the curve of unemployment" by the end of the year. In the event, the curve rose.

In his 14th July Bastille Day television interview this year, the president boldly announced that "the recovery is here", pointing the way to brighter days for France's economy. In the week of his 60th birthday, however, the national statistics institute INSEE forecast a disastrous zero growth for the French economy in 2014, just as figures for France's neighbours showed them firmly climbing out of recession.

One pollster said that, therein lay Hollande's problem: instead of telling the truth about the state of France, he instead made optimistic remarks that quickly came back to haunt him, not only irritating the public, but supporters inside his own Socialist camp where a group of parliamentarians, known as the "frondeurs", dissidents or rebels, are becoming more and more vociferous.

But the government showed no sign of taking heed. Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced that policy would not change, saying that it would take time for Hollande's programme to take effect and hinting that holding firm was a sign of courage. The problem for many French citizens, as the president's five-year term nears its halfway mark, is that they don't see much of a programme at all, still less any real moves to get the economy back on the rails.

Even the nature of Hollande's birthday celebration had a touch of the pitiful. For the holiday month of August, instead of taking advantage of the Fort de Brégançon, the French president's official summer residence overlooking the Mediterranean, he retired to his La Lanterne weekend home at Versailles, a brief helicopter hop from the Elysée Palace.

And, there, gossipier elements of the French media said, he did not even have much in the way of female company. One magazine that thrives on the lives of the famous said he had been deserted by Julie Gayet, the actress whose relationship with the president - revealed at the beginning of the year - forced Valérie Trierweiler, the journalist who had shared Hollande's life since his 2012 election, to move out.

The Elysée then moved to reassure the public that Hollande would not be home alone to blow out his 60 candles on 12th August. He would, it said, be celebrating at an undisclosed location in southeastern France with his four children by his long-time ex-companion, Ségolène Royal, the current ecology minister.

After that private party, the president led ceremonies to mark the 70th anniversary of the World War II landings in Provence with a vibrant speech about the lessons of history. Many of the French, however, are still waiting for the president to deal with the present.

Julian Nundy