22 April 2007

Sego... Sarko... it must stop!

Anyone prepared to run for President should automatically, by definition, be disqualified from ever doing so. If experience teaches us anything at all, it is this; a good politician, under democracy, is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar. In fact, political parties ought to be outlawed on the basis that, like football matches, and other team sporting events held in stadiums, they attract the least desirable members of society. Being a politician is quite like being a footballer, come to think of it; you’re required to be smart enough to understand the game, but have to be stupid enough to think it’s important.

Admittedly extremist notions… so it wouldn’t be at all surprising to find some of you urging me to stand-in as a replacement candidate for Mr Sarkozy in the French Presidential election. (Why not, indeed... for it does seem anyone can get themselves elected as a President nowadays)

One trusts you have all been following the first round voting in the French Presidential elections, gentle reader? It is important to engage with what is happening in the world around us; one considers activism as a rent paid for the privilege of living on this planet, hence my deciding to share my thoughts on what has been happening in France… an idiots guide, as it were.

One has been introduced to the current state of affairs in this country by my good friend G: all his adult life, he has been an active member of the Socialist party. It was through him one first became acquainted with Ms Segolene Royale, earlier this year when she was still being considered as a candidate for nomination.

Instead of repeating his lengthy discourse on the respective skills and experience of the three candidates put forward by the Socialist party, suffice to say that in G's considered view, Ms Royale was the least capable of those on offer… and yet, it appeared, the most likely candidate to lead the Socialist party to victory in a national election. This might strike those of you unfamiliar with the world of politics as paradoxical; but if you bear in mind that in recent times all politics have been based on the indifference of the majority and the cult of celebrity, you will follow his reasoning.

For you see, the leading opposition candidates for the Presidency were likely to be middle-aged or elderly male gentlemen; the other prospective candidates from the Socialist party were both elderly male gentlemen, which meant that if selected Ms Royale would have the distinct advantage of being the first female candidate for the position, with the additional advantages of being young and photogenic. In itself, this would generate media interest capable of buoying her campaign, as likely to get her elected as ability, which has fallen out of fashion, it appears.

While G recognised the symbolic importance of having a female head of state- something he viewed as a positive, let me assure you- from the outset he was troubled by Ms Royale’s socialist credentials... or lack thereof. She blatantly styled her campaign on the New Labour approach that brought Mr Blair to victory in the United Kingdom (try shouting his 1997 soundbyte 'Education, Education, Education' with a French accent, and you have her favourite battle cry) a tactic which must pose a legitimate concern for any true socialist. Another worry was the lack of ideology, and the depth of her commitment to any issue, in particular gay rights and social justice for minority groups: to illustrate, until a year ago Ms Royale had been ‘pro-family values’ in the conservative sense; not at all gay-friendly, before ‘having a sudden change of heart,’ or as those cynics among you might remark, changing tack when she realised this position would marginalise a subgroup of prospective supporters.

Despite those grave concerns, in recognition of the importance of uniting behind one candidate (avoiding fractious divisive in-fighting which ordinarily occurs, diminishing the chance of a socialist candidate wining) G cast his vote for Ms Royale. That might surprise you... but gentle reader, kindly appreciate there is a serious risk of France electing a dangerous little victim-bashing, immigrant-expelling, minority-hating, authoritarian extremist by the name of Mr Nicolas Sarkozy as their next President; in such circumstances, with no other candidate with any real prospect of challenging him, who would you vote for?

Every politician is emphatically a promising politician, and at the outset Ms Royale appeared to be competent as her rivals when it came to the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich by promising to protect each from the other. Intent upon following her progress, one tried to engage by reading publicity materials and her manifesto en francais only to find it was quite impossible to make any sense of what was being said. On more than one occasion, having looked up particular words in a dictionary, the actual meaning of expressions was lost upon me.

Bearing in mind that political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind, perhaps this was not so surprising. After all, the press conference is a politician’s way of being informative without saying anything: should he or she accidentally say something, there is usually a press officer standing by who immediately explains it away by ‘clarifying’. But this was being taken to an alarming new extreme in the early campaigning of Ms Royale... another sign of Mr Blair's influence, of course, and yet another cause of distress to her increasingly worried party. For while Mr Sarkozy also tends to disguise his extremist tendancies, he does at least produce palatable statements of discernible meaning, concrete and comprehensible to the masses, not merely soundbyte or spin.

Unhappily, next came a series of embarrassing gaffes on the part of Ms Royale, which her main rivals, in particularly the contemptible Mr Sarkozy, latched upon with glee. She knows nothing but thinks she knows everything, he taunted, sounding like the school bully he is. ‘Knows nothing, but thinks she knows everything?’ Why, any career guidance teacher would remark that points clearly to a political career.

In the course of the campaign, both Sarkozy and Royale demonstrated a certain degree of cunning when it came to manipulating the media effectively; with the former portraying himself as a strong and decisive candidate (the implicit corollary being that she was weak and indecisive, thereby summoning up as much latent sexism as it was possible to) Earlier in the campaign, it had become apparent that overt sexism was used to the advantage of his rival (given that it is considered unacceptable to betray such prejudices, however truly, madly and deeply they are held) with Ms Royale using her wiles to score points whenever journalists directed questions along the lines of ‘who’s going to be at home looking after the kids’

At times, the campaigning became rather tawdry, oft childish, as happens in politics all over the world: inevitably the rusty artillery of abuse got wheeled into action when political ammunition ran low; caricatures of Sarkozy depicted as a vampire, with Royale soaring past on a broomstick. Inevitably, the politicians blamed the media for any criticism of the campaigning, which is a bit like the captain of a sailing ship complaining about the wind.

To the bitter end, still engaged in vigorous canvassing, my friend G's concerns intensified ; in recent months, while Ms Royale appealed to the centre voters, she was isolating grass-roots Socialist supporters, and there was a serious risk of a sway in favour of a third candidate (thereby dividing the left vote, leaving the race open to be dominated yet again by right-wing candidates, a la 2002)

But today, after weeks of speculation, it came time to vote... and we find that it will be 'Sarko' and 'Sego' in the second round.

A cause for celebration? Hardly.

G's views on Mr Sarkozy have not changed, nor are they likely to; he strikes fear into all civil libertarians. Bbut equally great are G's concerns about what will happen should Ms Royale actually win. If elected on the unreasonaly high expectations of her own creating, proclaiming that she is going to change the way politics are done in France, should her Presidency flounder, it would probably destroy any chances of the Socialist party returning to power in his lifetime.

How to reassure a friend in such unfortunate circumstances, gentle reader?

One has reminded him that he did the only thing he could in voting for Ms Royale; at the end of the day, we all know that the successful candidate will not be chosen on the basis of policy, but rather personality. One has told him that France, like all other democracies, will simply have to choose between the least worst alternative.

He has asked for my consdiered opinion on the outcome; alas, one suspects that the winner will be the candidate who says what the majority is thinking most often in the loudest voice.

Bearing in mind that the majority do not often think of politics at all, or if they do, it is reactionary, and neither considered nor insightful....

Time for another revolution, perhaps?


jebuff said...

Agreed, chuckle.
Right on!
Laughs out loud. (Hey, what a great blog I've stumbled upon. Guy's funny, witty, writes real good by gum.)
But, alas, must disagree concerning your anti-Sarko opinion. A development economist by training, a proud liberal in American politics, I immigrated to France from America almost 20 years ago, and I’ve been lucky enough to know both countries from within. Sarko, much as he represents a more open economy, is a far cry from LePen, or even the “current occupant” in the White House.
Although I am uncomfortable about some of Sarko's flirtation with the far right (on immigration, etc) during the campaign, I do believe he offers the best chance to reform France while maintaining the most critical elements of France’s enviable social ‘engagement’. I also believe he's too much of a pragmatist to shoot himself in the foot economically by actually attacking immigration as President. Watch his spoken policy drop under the waterline as soon as he's elected. He knows, as we all do, that immigrants are the hardest-working people in France, and for less. Their contribution via work, consumption & taxes far outweighs the cost of keeping the door, if not exactly open, at least slightly ajar.
At the risk of sounding cynical, it’s not like one has to want to invite the guy over for dinner. If I must hold my nose while voting Sarko, so be it.
Appologies to G., but the Socialists are still defending the old “French model" as if there was such a thing that could interest anyone in France or beyond with any understanding of economics. Sego can thus only offer empty promises for justice & benefits for all.
Too bad the PS hasn't learned from the lessons of the UK, Germany, & the Clinton democrats in the US... The old left ideas are broken, and only the "new left", fiscally responsible, pro-growth, and featuring a real sustainable social & environmental program can beat the right. If this existed in France, I'd vote Socialist again. Until them, Sarko has my vote.

Ms C Qrisp said...

Gracious thanks for your calling card, jebuff.

We must agree to differ on the subject of Mr Sarkozy.

You believe his flirtation with the far-right (which predates his Presidential campaign, please note; unless you consider this man's entire political career a campaign?) should not unduly concern us, because he is too much of an economic pragmatist to trample upon the economic migrants needed to run the economy?

To a certain extent, you are correct: Sarkozy will undoubtedly be prepared to admit economic migrants of some utility to France (such as your good self, or oneself) but one suspects a certain bias in terms of his entrance criteria (skilled labour from developed nations, while welcoming only unskilled labour from undeveloped nations)

The banlieu riots in 2005 stemmed from the frustration felt by many second generation French, born to these unskilled immigrants; despite being educated in France, they are being discriminated against and denied professional employment... you're welcome to work if you're happy on an assembley line or to street-sweep, but don't get ideas above your station. Instead of acknowledging the root of this problem, Sarkozy continues to accerbate the situation, dismissing those tension as being caused by voyous and racaille, terms which can be translated into English as thugs, dregs or riff-raff.

And what of his lack of humanity and compassion towards those migrants who have no function? The 'circulaire Sarkozy' whereby he persuaded immigrant families into declaring their presence in the country only to have them deported, some arrests carried out while parents collected their children from school?

Not to mention his efforts to influence the operation of an independent judiciary, for the purposes of political point-scoring: shocking misbehaviour for any politician, never mind a professional legal advocate, who must appreciate the importance of judicial independence and the separation of powers.

To me, all of the above display a lack of scruples on the part of Mr Sarkozy that is alarming.

One does not for a moment believe his ideology will become less radical and more inclusive if elected; quite the opposite.

One does, however, to agree that the French economy needs a radical overhaul. Alas, one trusts neither of the two candidates to carry out this task. Hence the need for urgent action.

Unfamiliar with the Clinton/German models referred to, can one conclude by remarking that one certainly would NOT advocate going down the path taken by New Labour in the Uk. This approach might have won elections, but at what cost? Have you any idea what its done to quality of life? Increased privatisation of public services - health, education, transport - has diminished overall quality of provision, increased their running costs, while limiting access to those of means. Unspeakable harm has been done; instigated by the Tories, admittedly, but New Labour have exacerbated the situation and failed to address any of the problems that have surfaced.

Rant over, jebuff. Thanks for reading!

Ms C Quisp