CATS AND dogs have become the new weapons in France’s image-politics wars. Things began to heat up late last year when Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Rally (formerly the National Front), revealed that she had passed an exam to become an accredited cat-breeder. Her feline fervour was already well known. Ms Le Pen considers cats to be “part of the family” and once accused a Doberman belonging to her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, of killing one of her treasured mogs. But this latest twist looked suspiciously like part of a bid to soften the image of a leader who has sought to distance herself from her father’s inflammatory far-right politics.
Just as Ms Le Pen has tried to tone down her strident style ahead of next year’s French presidential election, so have cuddly pictures of her six cats appeared with persistent regularity on her Instagram account. She has even set up a separate anonymous account, dedicated to her Bengal and Somali breeds. “I’m not interested in the money,” purred Ms Le Pen; “I just want cats to be better treated.” If I care for my cats, she seems to say, I would care for the country too.
Ms Le Pen’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. After his election Emmanuel Macron adopted a mongrel, Nemo, from a rescue shelter. Photos of the president, better known for his “Jupiterian” governing style, petting his black mutt periodically feature on the Instagram account of the official presidential photographer, Soazig de la Moissonnière. In December Mr Macron posted on social media a video of Nemo, with a message urging the French to adopt a rescue pet, and to do so responsibly. It got over half a million views on Instagram alone.
During the Fifth Republic, a menagerie of pets has come and gone at the Elysée palace. As well as his rescue dog, Mr Macron keeps two hens (a present). Nicolas Sarkozy brought in a handful of canines. Charles de Gaulle had a Welsh Corgi, reportedly given to him by the queen, as well as a cat, although neither lived at the official residence. Before Mr Macron, no fewer than six consecutive French presidents had Labradors, turning that breed into something of a tradition. Georges Pompidou’s was called Jupiter, as it happens. In short, every modern French president has owned a dog. Has Ms Le Pen picked the right pet for power?
This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the headline “Future impurrfect”