All The More Reason

‘En me regardant dans les yeux…’
April 30, 2007, 10:40 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal will debate each other, live, for the first time in the campaign this Wednesday. Doubtless, each side will be honing its tactics; will Sarkozy take his usual approach of verbally steamrolling his opponent into submission? Will Royal employ the ‘rope a dope’ strategy and allow him to do so, hoping that the full range of nervous tics and contemptuous skunk eyes will prove his undoing?

Who knows? It will certainly be interesting to see whether the dynamic of the debate will differ on account of the fact that, for the first time, the contest is between a male and a female candidate. The occasion of the head-to-head has led the French National Archive to upload some of the previous French presidential debates to its site. They are extraordinarily macho, almost theatrical, affairs in which, unlike their staid and nauseatingly polite American counterparts, the two opponents eyeball each other across a desk.

My favourite clip so far (and, believe me, I’m working my way through all of them) features Jacques Chirac during his ill-fated attempt to unseat Francois Mitterrand in 1988. There was a post on this site a few days ago about whether France would ever restore its monarchy. Watching Mitterrand after seven years as President gives you about as good an indication as you’re ever going to get of what the roi de nos jours might look like. It also goes some way towards explaining the French public’s baffling attraction to Jacques Chirac. Even though he is a crook, you can’t help but have a sneaking admiration for his showmanship.

Michael P


Euston Manifesto
April 29, 2007, 6:45 pm
Filed under: Euston Manifesto

From the Euston Manifesto team:

Humanitarian Intervention post-Iraq, Monday 30th April.

Jubilee Room, Westminster Hall, Houses of Parliament, London.

A Euston Manifesto Forum:

On Monday 30th April, a panel of leading Ministers, MPs, and thinkers will come together to discuss the future of humanitarian intervention, after the conflict in Iraq.

As a Euston Manifesto signatory blog, we would like to give your readership the opportunity to ask questions directly to the panel. We would really appreciate you and your readers’ contributions to this important debate, and would be grateful to you if you could raise awareness of the event, which we hope will raise nationally and internationally the importance of humanitarian intervention.

The speakers include: –

Rt. Hon. Hilary Benn MP, Minister for International Development and a candidate for the Labour party deputy leadership.

Prof. Brian Brivati, Professor of Contemporary History and Human Rights at Kingston University.

Nick Cohen, journalist for the Observer and New Statesman, and author of ‘What’s Left? How Liberals lost their way’.

Gary Kent, Director of Labour Friends of Iraq.

Pat McFadden MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Cabinet Office

Karen Pollock, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust (tbc.)

You can post questions here or email them directly to

Knowing one’s place
April 28, 2007, 9:58 pm
Filed under: French Politics, French Presidential Elections

In an interesting move, the first debate after the first round of the french presidential elections has not been between the two winners but between Royal and Bayrou. Bayrou finished third in the first round. I must say that when I read the headline last night on Le Figaro I just thought that I was so tired that my eyes were fooling me. And yet, after verifying this morning, I wasn’t mistaken.

Briefly then, we have two ideas roughly in conflict here. On the one hand, one wants to encourage dialogue and debate. On the other, one also wants to know when to leave the stage to leave the main players their turn. I must say that I heavily lean to the second way of looking at things. Roughly one–fifth of the voters voted for Bayrou in the first round. All of a sudden, this one–fifth holds more power than the very roughly equivalent voters that either voted to the left of Royal or the right of Sarkozy.

Another way of looking at things is that Bayrou’s position was one of a third way. As it turns out, the French didn’t think enough of centrism this time round. Still, one could say that the debate between Sarkozy and Royal would function in a way as an approach to the centre. And yet, with Bayrou staying in the swimming pool long after the other guests have left gives the impression that it’s not centrism which interests Bayrou as much as Bayrouism. From that perspective, I wonder if Bayrou will end up hurting or helping his chances in 2012.

Jonathan Smith

Mission Statements
April 27, 2007, 11:59 pm
Filed under: Rhetoric

If there is a better example than mission statements of something that has a lot of words and yet ends up saying nothing I’d like to know what it is: perhaps the European Constitution? I had the opportunity this week to sit in on the creation of a mission statement, so if you are not familiar with its genesis here be an example.

1. Show examples of previous mission statements from other institutions.

2. Laugh outloud at the ridiculous language and run–on sentences.

3. Sit down in groups to work on your draft.

4. Look tentatively over one’s shoulder to the derided examples just “to see how they got started.”

5. Add a few more words here and there, and be sure to add “diversity”.

6. Chuckle self–consciously at the result but nod resignedly at the fact that this was the best one could do.

I could add a few steps here and there, but that’s the essential gist of it. If I had to hypothesize as to why these dandelions have taken to bloom so well, I’d wonder if there is any analogue to family crests and seals from another time. I’d bet good money that if one removed the mission statement from an institution and replaced it with one from another similar institution no one would notice the difference.

Jonathan Smith

Rostropovich Dead
April 27, 2007, 11:46 pm
Filed under: Music

One of the great classical musicians and minds of the 20th century has died. Like so many famous russians, including Dostoyevsky, he had multiple spellings of his name in english.

A true Royalist
April 25, 2007, 9:06 pm
Filed under: French Politics

In a somewhat surreal interview, which is quickly becoming my new favourite word, Henri d’Orléans discussed not so subtly his own ambitions for political power in France. Have you not heard? He is the the roi putatif, the roi virtuel, of France. Yes, France keeps a running count of who would have been king until this day based on bloodlines.

Very unfortunately I have been unable to find this interview online although I’m sure in the weeks to come I should be able to find similar material to discuss some of his pretentions. Amongst other things in the interview, he mentioned how in a recent poll 17 percent of French citizens were in favour of the monarchy. In a more juicy quote, he discussed how the political power wouldn’t be prepared for a surge in the streets clamouring for the return of the monarchy.

As with most things in life I’m hopelessly ignorant about many of the relevant details of the subject. However, a couple of observations can be made all the same. In Britain the monarchy has been defanged, but in France it was dethroned. The manner in which it has been removed no doubt slightly encourages the idea of its return. As crazy as it sounds, and as impossible as it could be for a king to come to power in the United States or Canada, it really is not beyond reason to imagine France descending into monarchic rule in the decades to come if it doesn’t wake up.

Jonathan Smith

Addendum : I’d encourage any other writers and readers of this blog to challenge the last line of this post. And yet, personally, I just cannot will myself to see that possibility (of France descending into monarchy in the 21st century) as completely ridiculous anymore. I realise that that justification does not distinguish itself from those who believe that lasers took out the World Trade Towers, or indeed that Fascist America is on its way, as Naomi Wolf would believe. Still, I don’t think that we should hide away from our sentiments or intuitions either. What counts most, I think, is that we label them as such, and not as foregone conclusions.

Bayrou Keeps his Powder Dry
April 24, 2007, 4:15 pm
Filed under: French Politics, French Presidential Elections

As exclusively revealed/speculated upon/mentioned in passing yesterday, Francois Bayrou will reportedly announce tomorrow that he has chosen not to personally endorse either of the two candidates for the French presidency. For reasons of his own credibility, this was perhaps inevitable. He has attacked both parties’ positions as anachronistic and could hardly give whole-hearted support to one or the other, especially if he is perceived to have done a seedy backroom deal in order to secretly carve out a place for the UDF in any subsequent government. Bayrou will want his party, or whichever group that sprouts up after the choc of May 6th, to be an independent force within the National Assembly capable of achieving what he refers to as ‘a shift in the political landscape’. This way he is untainted by accusations of being anybody’s place-man. Nor, more pertinently, will he be required to back a winner in what could turn out to be a tighter race than anyone had imagined.

In the absence of any official encyclical from Bayrou, Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal will have to go above his head and tailor their message to the 7 million French people who voted for the man himself. Politically, this is much easier for Sarkozy; the UMP is a pragmatic coalition of centre-right groups naturally attracted to the economically liberal scent that the UDF gives off.  However, the UDF is also a socially liberal party; one which has persistently attacked Sarkozy’s social programme for being too ‘brutal’. The harsh and intemperate language used by Sarkozy throughout the campaign will not be forgotten, no matter how hard he now tries to paint himself in pastel shades.

Pitched against someone who frightens the liberal horses so, one would assume that Segolene Royal’s appeal to UDF voters would be clair et net. Indeed, all her pronouncements since her rather lacklustre speech on Sunday have been designed to push the buttons of Bayrou and his supporters. Like him, she talks about ‘political renewal’ – although, this translation does not really do justice to the original phrase, ‘renovation politique‘, which suggests a rather more fundamental look at the architecture of the French system. Quite how Royal intends to square this rhetoric with what is a fairly conventional socialist programme remains to be seen.

However, any overtures made on her part to centrist voters immediately result in a chorus of harrumphs from her Socialist Party comrades. They balk at the thought of having to dilute their rhetoric, let alone their policies, for the sake of gaining the support of what they dismissively refer to as the troisieme force. For them, the PS is a rassemblement a gauche or it is nothing. The most vicious fight we see over the coming fortnight may therefore be within Royal’s own party – between leftist elephants like Dominique Strauss-Kahn and more pragmatic social-democrats like Bernard Kouchner.

And, funnily enough, the terms of the debate may centre around an ideology that will soon become something of an anachronism in its country of origin- le blairisme. This is a phrase that the leftist horses are equally fearful of, not just because of its post-Iraq connotations, but because it is seen as code for unthinkable doctrinal compromises- the sale of the party’s socialist soul and a capitulation to neo-liberalisme. Royal is not instantly dismissive of blairisme. In an interview with France Inter this morning she was quick to praise Blair ‘for investing in public services and cutting youth unemployment’. But this is rather disingenous. These achievements, based as they were upon a foundation of economic stability and growth, were only made possible by the liberal reforms of the 1980s, in particular, the unblocking of Britain’s sclerotic labour market (which, in the short term, lest we forget, iself led to a great deal of unemployment). Without a formula for resolving France’s structural problems, Royal’s talk of blairisme will continue to be all sizzle and no beef.

Michael P