Saturday, 16 February 2008

Sorry Affairs of State

I tend to avoid writing about politics or current affairs here. That was another life. It seems negligent though to make no mention of the ongoing soap opera starring President Nicolas Sarkozy - currently the only topic of conversation at Gallic dinner tables. "Delirant", which means frenzied, is the description of this saga I have heard most often. Even the president's supporters have criticised him publicly for demeaning the dignity of his position. During his whirlwind courtship of the model-turned-singer Carla Bruni, 'Speedy Sarko' was accused of not having his mind on the job of running the country - well there's a surprise! The Prime Minister turns up for a meeting about the economy to find to his boss has decamped to a chic restaurant with Carla and friends. He says, with dismay, that the President seems distracted. As I say, quelle surprise. Every day brings a new rumour or revelation. Did the president really text his ex-wife saying words to the effect of: "Come back and I'll dump the Italian chick"? Was he really messaging girlfriend Carla from his phone while in the presence of the Pope? Did his son, 22-year-old Sarkozy junior, really believe he could follow in Dad's footsteps and become mayor of a rich Paris suburb?

It is entertaining but not very edifying. The French, who were expecting action outside of the bedroom from their leader, have expressed their disapproval in opinion polls. But each time his popularity plummets, Mr Sarkozy comes up with another distraction: his marriage; a plan to save civilisation and now teaching every French school child the story of a Holocaust victim, an idea that has appalled some who survived the Nazi genocide. All these distractions are like a firework show being worked by thieves: everyone is so busy looking up and going "ooh, ahhh" they do not notice their pockets are being picked. But they will notice sooner or later.

Nicolas Sarkozy is behaving like a man in quicksand unaware that all his wild flailing is making him sink faster. Next month he visits the Queen in London (reportedly the real reason for his hasty wedding to Ms Bruni; a spouse being less problematic in terms of protocol than your latest squeeze). I wonder what the Queen makes of all this: upstart politicians; glamorous girlfriends; trophy wives; disastrous marriages; bitter is not exactly new territory for her, but then Mr Sarkozy is not family. When I first came to France I was constantly asked if the Queen had really described 1992 as her "horrid bottom" year. (Me: "Sorry...what on earth are you talking about?" Them: "You know, annus horribilis." Me: groan.)

Still, Mr Sarkozy will make a light change from Gordon Brown at Buckingham Palace. I once saw the two men together at a press conference. It was hilarious; funnier than Little and Large. The short Mr Sarkozy fidgeted, hopped from foot to foot, waved his hands in the air, displayed his trademark tic - a jerking neck and shoulder shrug - and wittered about friendship. I think he may have even slapped Mr Brown on the back. He certainly leant over and touched the British premier's grey-suited arm. The solid Prime Minister delivered his speech as if he had been dunked in concrete on the way into the Elysée Palace and it had hardened leaving only his hands and mouth free to move, and even them only slightly. He talked about serious things like global warming and the world economy in a dour, sincere voice. Mr Brown kept saying "President Sark-cozzie" (to rhyme with swimming cozzie) and Mr Sarkozy kept saying "the English" (as opposed to the British). The third time he did it, the PM, a Scot, lost his cool. Well he lost it as far as a man encased in concrete can: he winced and glared.

I am not the only one wondering what the Queen will make of the man they call "President Bling Bling" and his new wife. The following was posted by a reader of  The Times website in response to a piece on Nicolas and Carla. I had a chuckle over the final image.

As a French person, I wish to apologise for our embarrassing presidential couple... Our "political" scene looks like a bad 80's American soap...Carla Bruni may be 40 years old but it seems she is as mature as a spoilt 12 year old. In this respect she and Nicolas Sarkozy are a perfect match... both full of themselves and painfully lacking subtlety and culture... I wonder what the Queen will make of them when they visit her in March this year... they have as much class as a pair of furry dice.

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