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.