Clowns & Jokers

Stuck in the middle.... Left, right, centre. It's a mess out there.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Oooh la la

France usually tops everyones hate list on the noble Right for just about everything. Yes the French get up my nose too, despite having lived there, speaking the language and having expat family living there now. Mostly for the same reasons as everyone else. We love to hate them, they love to hate us. They send us all their jobless yuf, we send them all our retirees (“salt and peppers”). We buy their houses, they annoyingly ship over undesirables on the eurostar. Still I cant help admiring them. They look after their own. They have a ‘healthy’ political spectrum full of posturing parties of every political background. Even as a student there in 93 I could never get my head round my then French boyfriend voting communist. (Moron). Or seeing such a stealy figure as Le Pen ride out every storm, challenged by 1.3 million demonstrators (rather than the CPS), allowed to sit in mainstream politics.

London and the UK has prospered off the back of Thatcher and Blair whilst France has stagnated. The former made Britain great and the latter made Britain cool. But at such a price with Blair. I suppose the French with all their political spectrum still end up with some crusty old buffoon as leader. (Something which never ceases to amaze me is how republics throw off royalty and replace them with… royalty). But whilst Britain has prospered reasonably well (off consumer debt more latterly), its political scene is truly stagnating.

The French have gone all out to protect a way of life that is to be envied. Even school meals are taken so seriously they are decided at cabinet level, they leave the office at 5, take 3 hour lunches that involve everyone, take numerous holidays…all peppered with debilitating strikes of course. The French have staved off cultural decline by fighting tooth and nail for it. You wont catch tv or billboard advertising for American movies or Danish bacon anywhere in France. You can’t BUY Danish bacon anywhere in France, though you can catch an american movie, just! The French ripped the backside out of farm subsidies whilst we bungled and moaned. Think the French take the ECHR seriously? Give me a break.

Despite all this France knows that it must adapt to the 21st century world economy and be prepared to make some big compromises. And this is where I take my hat off to them, again. Because they’ll do it ill wager without buggering up their cultural heritage. Recognising either by luck, gloom mongering or more likely by virtue of that healthy political system that La France is in decline, they have produced a timely hero.

And that’s where their political system came to the fore. Le Pen pushed politics to the right after scarying the crap out of the political elite in the last presidential elections. The people made it crystal clear that they werent happy with a number of things and immigration was top of the pile. The FN were unable to capitalize on their successes but Sarkozy is now. As a result the French now have a great opportunity.

They have spent a long time being down in the mouth about it all though. A new word has emerged ‘declinology’ with political pundits challenging the elite to put a smile back on the French dial and tackle ‘declinology’ head on. But at least the issues were raised. And so cometh the hour cometh the man. The left are a mess with Union leaders losing public support by the second. And after the centre-right suffered disastrous losses in regional elections, Chirac was forced to shake up his Cabinet and give Monsieur Sarkozy -- whose 55% approval rating is well above Chirac's paltry 32% -- a more prominent role. Ever the ego Chirac saddled him with seemingly intractable problems such as illegal immigration, knowing it was a hot potato. Sarkozy produced the goods. His approval ratings soared as he closed a refugee centre seen as a magnet for illegal immigrants. He also cut motorway death rates with tougher enforcement of drink-driving and speeding laws. He even wants to weaken a popular law capping the workweek at 35 hours, while making the French pay more for health care (prescriptions) that's now mostly free.

Oh yes that’s the other thing! Their public private hybrid health care system works. Instead of groaning on about public health care and turning it into a political stalemate, or worshipping at the feet of a fully private health care system (yuck), they tweek it as necessary and make it work. It’s a testament to the plusses of the EU that my family recently greatly benefited from the Fabulous French NHS.

Sarkozy came ‘roaring out of the gates’, with an economic-growth package including targeted tax incentives, sharp cuts in government spending, and relaxing that tricky 35-hour workweek law. To give people confidence in such major changes he engages with the electorate and takes them seriously. When they gave the government the short sharp shock treatment via the Le Front National someone took note. Sarko is unafraid to call last years rioters ‘scum’ or be seen marching against anti Semitism last weekend after an horrific murder took ahold of the public conscience, sending a firm message to French muslims in the process. He has forced police to label attacks on Jewish-owned buildings anti-Semitic, rather than simple vandalism. He called for a reform of the French immigration system, increasing the number of deportations of illegal immigrants to 25,000. And he proper laughed, no ‘BBC style debate’, when French muslim birds requested to wear a full face covering burqa in their ID card photo. Whilst ensuring that headscarves were kept out of a lay school system and not caving in. At what point did the ECHRs come into play here? Cherie Blair, UK anyone?

During the riots he pulled local muslim and youth community leaders into a room, shut the door and got on with finding a solution. I watched it on the news. The tv crews were fuming. “You are not invited this is between me and them” he said (rolling up his sleeves – ok he didn’t roll up his sleeves, im kidding). He didn’t sit down with some no meaning Islamic group who pushed their own agendas. On that note he is keener to see any muslim group fall under the control of the French givernment rather than lose control to foreign imams. He recognised that the riots represent a challenge to xenophobic France and is willing to look at some of those successes he views in the British ‘melting pot’/anglo saxon economic model combo. And by that before eyebrows are raised to heaven - when you consider a black French wannabe tv presenter talking up the fact that she felt ‘recognized’ and less like a ‘half citizen’ when she visited the UK you get the picture. There were also no publicly funded mosques in France. Basic changes with control in this area are what Sarko refers to.

In a centre-right government that was slow to deliver on promises and stalled in ‘declinology’, Sarkozy stood out for action. How refreshing. He recognizes the anglo saxon economic model is the way forward, openly praising both the US and the UK free market policies. "There are many good lessons that we must learn from America," he said - and the public didn’t balk. He admires Blair for his skill at realigning Labour and cunning use of the media. But he is not relying on this alone. He listens to the public. Cameron baby take note!

And as a final flurry his views on Europe are pretty smart. The larger EU nations, such as France, Germany, the UK, Spain, Italy and Poland should form a "strategic partnership" and play a genuine role as the engine of the EU, he said. In other words ‘take control’. The constitution should be adapted to meet what the public wants and enlargement should be put on hold. Meanwhile back in oldfartsville Mr Chirac has said of him: "There are no differences between the finance minister and me, for one simple reason, I decide and he carries out my wishes." Ha!

Oh and what better way to wipe the smile off some faces with the next French President being of Jewish descent? Maybe that’s why Le Pens miffed and looking to return to older less ‘fashionable’ anti semitic ways? (I don’t buy into that bit by the way.Le Pen sees his voters swayed by Sarkozy, more likely). And Sark is a Roman Catholic anyway.

One things for sure the stifling environment of our middle ground political scene restricts a new hero of similar stature emerging in the UK. Only the electorate can change that.

If the French stick to their guns on this one then before 2007 we should be milking the Olympic feeling for all we can get.


At Wednesday, 01 March, 2006, Blogger Chas said...

Alison, that's a hell of a post! I wish I could write that well. Weekly Standard has a really good article on Sarco here.

At Wednesday, 01 March, 2006, Blogger MonicaR said...

I LOVE this entry Alison! Very informative AND entertaining. Thank you.

At Wednesday, 01 March, 2006, Blogger "Alice" said...

Wow! Your posts just get better and better. Great writing, and very enlightening.

At Wednesday, 01 March, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Totally agree with all you say. The French are so good at standing up for France and french values..they will agree to anything if it suits them! Interesting times ahead Sarco could be in for a fight if he wants change - the french hate that. Great blog - very interesting.

At Wednesday, 01 March, 2006, Blogger Alison said...

Thanks everyone.

At Thursday, 02 March, 2006, Anonymous alison said...

Chas - thanks for the link. I took a look and its interesting to see his briefly laid plans in terms of 2007 since Cameron did the same recently. The latter was a load of waffle. Think i might post on that later. I think Sarkos ratings dip only slightly versus Royale. Fingers crossed for him.

I agree with the overall sentiment in the report that whatever happens in 2007 he is a welcome breath of fresh air and will influenece French politics for a long time to come. I wish we had someone similar in the UK :(

I was pleased to see Rushdie join forces with Ayaan Hirshi and issue a joint statement on the 'rising threat of Islam'. More to come on the latter.

At Friday, 03 March, 2006, Anonymous Steve said...

Great stuff Alison.

I'm a bit of a Sarkozy fan too. I also find this "USA good, France bad" thing (if you are right-wing, reverse it if you are on the left) rather tiresome.

As I keep pointing out to those who call the French 'surrender monkeys' - they printed the bloody cartoons and we didn't!

At Saturday, 04 March, 2006, Blogger Grumpy Troll said...

The article is well written but somewhat illusory and its author probably overly optimistic concerning French cultural decline.

Also, hope as you might, Nicolas "Sarko" Sarkozy's chances of getting elected are considerably slim in a France which is tilting left, attracted by socialist rhetoric (this more so with the contrat première embauche fiasco).

Please do excuse me for the brevity of this post, but I have too little time right now.

At Saturday, 04 March, 2006, Blogger Alison said...

I disagree ive read the polls. The polls change almost weekly btw - see other commenters article link. After the riots last year it pushed them to the right. Whatever the outcome Sarkos impact on the political scene is substantial. And the left counter what he lays out. All good stuff. I wasnt suggesting the French were in decline particularly. Frances elite are. Rather Im confident/hopeful they arent!

thanks for stopping by however brief.

At Saturday, 04 March, 2006, Blogger Grumpy Troll said...

The latest polls indicate that while Nicolas Sarkozy is the most popular right-wing politician at 44 per cent, he is 8 points behind the left-wing figure Ségolène Royale, having himself lost 8 points over the last month. Whereas 43 per cent of those polled have a "very good or somewhat good" opinion of the Parti socialiste, only 30 per cent have a good opinion of the ruling right-wing party UMP, of which Nicolas Sarkozy is the president. 43 per cent of those polled have a "somewhat bad or very bad" opinion of the Parti socialiste, against 54 per cent having a bad opinion of the UMP.

I had a look at the polls produced around the time of the riots and have to admit to being surprised that the Right did indeed then gain popularity. I also have to say that I go to a pretty average lycée and the students who will be able to vote in 2007 are overwhelmingly left-wing. I support Sarkozy as the only convincing right-wing politician here in France and am at the receiving end of pretty harsh invectives for that. The libéraux — supporters of limited government, free market and meritocracy — really aren't the most popular.

As for the French decline, so to say, the youth buys American, eats American, listens American, watches American and takes every possibly opportunity to bastardise the French language by anglicising it. (All that is quite ironic, given that its favourite pastime is belittling the Americans.)

I shall be sure to read your journal regularly.

At Saturday, 04 March, 2006, Anonymous alison said...

Thats students for you :). I was the same. Ive seen some recent polls which say Sark is ahead and others where he is 2 behind the left, overall it swings about. Royale tends to blunder so with luck she'll mess up. I'm rooting for him. I think he's so well respected he'll gain again. Keep the faith. I hope to post some more on France soon. Ill link you in!

At Saturday, 04 March, 2006, Blogger Chas said...

I heard a very good radio article on Mde Royale. The rest of the left "old boys" network seemed quite dismissive of her. But when the party was at a memorial for Mitterand, she was in Chile consulting with the 1st woman president there! When the barbarians are at the gate, will France vote for Sarko or her? No sais.

At Saturday, 04 March, 2006, Anonymous alison said...

He sets the tone - thats good for France in itself. She doesnt have l'air d'une presidente. (Like yr boots!)

At Sunday, 05 March, 2006, Blogger Grumpy Troll said...

Your opinion is interesting, as recent polls suggest that although more want Ségolène Royale to be candidate than they do Nicolas Sarkozy, most would vote for Nicolas Sarkozy, not Ségolène Royale, would the election take place tomorrow, suggesting that Sarkozy is more familiar to the French than Royale. Also, more consider Lionel Jospin to have the stature of a candidate than thay do Ségolène Royale.

At Sunday, 05 March, 2006, Anonymous alison said...

Sarko does seem to be more media 'friendly' which makes him more familiar, populist. He courts the media more with his outspoken remarks but he seems to mean it all and have a point. All good stuff. Doesnt he get a lot of coverage in Paris Match for example vis-a-vis his relationship? It seemed that way when i was last there. I wish we had someone of similiar stature, media friendlt with CLOUT. What he laid out for the party was far more tangible even in its loosest sense to what the Tories laid out here recently. I still cannot believe they put the environment at the top of their list. A recent MORI poll here shows them to be totally out of touch with the electorate - the poll showed (what we all knew!) that security is top of the list. I dont even think that featured in the Tories outline! Ive given up on them. I/we should be the kind of people Cams is reaching out to. Except he hasnt. They havent. Im very envious of France for that reason. Whatever happens Sarko will exert his influences for a while to come and dictate the pace. Hes not simply a media showpiece.

At Sunday, 05 March, 2006, Blogger Grumpy Troll said...

Indeed — at least we French have a right-wing party, whereas David Cameron seems to have joined the Conservative Party by accident. Margaret Thatcher would be turning in her grave were she in it.

At Tuesday, 07 March, 2006, Anonymous Greenmantle said...

As an English bloke living in Paris at the moment, and of course in the middle of French politics (can you live anywhere else in France?), I was most impressed with your article on "Sarko". I had the occasion to meet him personally about a year ago when he was pushing the EU constitution like a bulldozer. Funny ow not only do we no longer hear a pipsqueak about that issue, but Sarko was the only one to come out the better for it, even though he totally got it wrong. He is indeed a fascinating person, and the cameras love him, which is never a bad thing.
I think that what most suprised me about him in real life was his whole attitude. When he walked into the room, he looked rather unassuming and indeed shy. But as soon as he was given a mike, he just came alive. Amazing charisma.
I don't know if you noticed the whole not-quite-slander-but-near-enough-to-kill-a-politician campaign that went on in the press over his marriage, but the public didn't buy it either.
From having talked to the French, and quite a few of them, my opinion is that he is perceived a kind of saviour: Raffarin, ex prime minister, who I thought was rather good, bore the brunt and kick of announcing the bad news, but Sarko said "Ok, it's true, let's do something about it". He is an opportunist in a way, but a good way: the man of the situation.
I watch with great interest his evolving career.
As for Lepen, he is as they say of a generation, and although god forbid he ever be in power, he does still have a purpose: holding the balance in a republic that is politically balanced by it's extremes (a statistical average if you will: (100+0)/2=50%). The other end of the spectrum being the Communist party (only one left in Europe I believe).
Thank you for your article, very astute!

At Wednesday, 08 March, 2006, Anonymous alison said...

As is your comment, thanks. He is definitely an opportunist and im watching with interest too. Yes that Communist Party in France is something else, i never could get over that! But I do envy the political mix they have.

At Wednesday, 08 March, 2006, Blogger MonicaR said...

Sarkozy is featured on the cover of my beloved Weekly Standard this week. I just got the issue - I am dying to read it...

At Wednesday, 08 March, 2006, Anonymous alison said...

Are they on-line Monica?

At Wednesday, 08 March, 2006, Anonymous Maggie said...

France needs a Maggie Thatcher type person to sort out the strikes which keep going on. The french post office cum bank being particularly annoying. They are closed lunch times, all day Monday and of, course, every strike day going. Very convenient don't know how the french put up with it.

At Wednesday, 08 March, 2006, Blogger Grumpy Troll said...

Greenmantle, not only did Sarko push the EU constitution, he also promotes positive discrimination. I can't agree with him on all issues, I suppose, but I still believe he remains the most convincing right-wing politician here in France.

Maggie, I agree with you entirely. Someone also needs to put a stop to the blocking of universities and the power of the unions behind the blocking. It happened with the loi Fillon and it's happening again with the contrat première embauche. As my father calls the students, "damn commie bastards".

At Thursday, 09 March, 2006, Blogger MonicaR said...

Here is a link. Apparently I've just received a week-old issue. Anyhoo here it is:

The Weekly Standard

I still haven't read it. When I read what they had to say about Cameron it was totally out of line with what I was seeing on A Tangled Web so this ought to be interesting.

At Friday, 10 March, 2006, Anonymous alison said...

Thanks ill check it out


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