Sarkozy in grand battle to survive
It might only be Wednesday and the television debate between President Nicolas Sarkozy and leading contender Francois Hollande (I wish I knew why so many of the BBC newsreaders insist on calling him “Francoise”?) hasn’t taken place yet, but my thoughts about Sunday were brought to the fore by Professor John Kay’s weekly column in the pink’un.
Kay seems to agree with most of the rest of the world that it is a choice between the unpopular and the unpalatable although he does, as always, find a far more erudite way of expressing it.
Sarko is on his back foot which – no disrespect to either him of the French electorate – is where he would evidently be. Since the beginning of the financial crisis, governments in Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Spain, Belgium, the UK and, in a lesser way and not electorally, in Italy and the Netherlands have fallen, irrespective of whether they were of the left or of the right. Sweeping out incumbents is the only way in which voters in parliamentary democracies can legitimately express their dissatisfaction with the position in which they find themselves and for which they rightly blame the politicians who are quick to take credit when things work well, but who can’t be seen for dust when they don’t.
However, Kay does raise one particular point which had so far escaped me – Sarkozy’s great selling point five years ago was that he was not one of the elite establishment which controls France with an iron fist. He is the outsider, the maverick who made it to the top without the benefit of having attended one of the Grands Ecoles; he is not an enarque. However, Hollande is a graduate of both SciencePol and ENA, and hence a prime exponent of the closed society which pulls all the strings in politics, public administration and the large industries.
The question might therefore be asked as to whether the people of France are simply going to vote out Sarko – assuming that they do – or whether they are consciously looking to place their collective fates back in the hands of one of the shamelessly corporatist establishment figures?
French political culture is so different to what we are used to in the UK. Although a Cameron might campaign for his “Big Society”, voters care more about the price of beer and the cost of prescriptions. On the other hand, when Sarko appeared at a rally in front of tens of thousands against the backdrop of the Eiffel Tower in Paris yesterday, promising to fight until the last minute, he demanded confirmation that the people of France wanted their “grand projects”.
Roll out the old chestnut that liberty, equality and fraternity are all well and good but that equality and fraternity are in practice mutually exclusive
Of course they do. France lives by its grand projects, the visible and affirming signs of Gallic success in a world which seems to be dominated by the perfidious Anglo-Saxons and, though never voiced, the even more perfidious “Boches”. France’s political culture has always been one of ideology over practicality.
As far back as the Revolution of 1789, ideological purity has played a greater role, rhetorically at least, than nuts and bolts politics. Roll out the old chestnut that liberty, equality and fraternity are all well and good but that equality and fraternity are in practice mutually exclusive.
If French politics is all about grand gestures, then where does it leave the future relationship with Germany which appears to be all about micro-managing the eurozone? Mutti Merkel has to face her own electorate next year when questions will be asked to her too. That there would be closer ideological ties between a putative left-wing French President and a possible (but not likely) left-of-centre German federal government I find hard to believe.
Alas, as far as Sarkozy is concerned, all is still to play for as he looks to the TV debate to refloat his sinking electoral ship. All that remains is to add that in the past, polls have shown no change either side of Presidential debates on the telly and Sarko needs a miracle if he is not to be packing up his record collection on Sunday night.
Meanwhile, I dined last night with a gentleman and a scholar I have known for many years. He sold up and walked away from the City almost 25 years ago and in doing so escaped the Crash of ’87 by six weeks. A fool he is not. As a humanist and a humanitarian, I know few better.
Anyhow, we talked about the City, about markets and about the culture of greed which has made a business which used to be fun nothing more than a race at all costs to meet ever-increasing financial targets. We spoke of the way in which the rich keep on becoming richer. Then something strange happened.
I commented that those less fortunate than ourselves and who are deeply affected by the austerity measures are still infinitely better off than they would have been without austerity in the 80s and that the disadvantaged of then would have taken the lot of the following generation all day long without any complaints.
At this point my friend commented “So not only have the rich been getting richer, the poor have been getting richer too……” Frankly, I believe that he might well be have a point there.