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Saturday, 26 May 2007

And the Devil wears Prada!

Let’s get to the important FACTS as published here in France (so it must be true). She’s the mother of two stunning teenage daughters, divorced, remarried bloke with two sons, then had another son with him. Spent most of last year in Canada taking a timeout from marriage returning as political campaigning gathered momentum. Reportedly didn’t vote in the second runoff for the Presidential election (polemic galore) and then horror upon horrors, tut tut, turns up at the Official Ceremony haute couturely decked in an outfit designed by an Italian rather than French fashion house.

Yep, welcome don’t-really-wannabe First Lady Cecila to the Elysees palace. She’s already wowing the “serious” weeklies and there are comparisons to another Premiere Dame from many years ago whom the French often view as an adopted daughter. It can only be a matter of time before the glossies bid a huge BONJOUR to the latest incarnation of Jackie O.

There are though very mixed messages for women in French society. Or there again, maybe not.

Mr S achieves almost sexual parity (can that exist) in his 15-strong cabinet (but where’s the transsexual?). Eight men and seven women? Among the latter a political bruiser in at the Interior Ministry (a Top Job), a newcomer in at the Justice Ministry – an extra plus she is of Arab descent……that goes down a storm with the media. An outspoken, slightly wonky-thinking pro-gay at Health and Sport tempered with an outspoken and seriously Catholic (and apparently voted the person the Gay Movement loves most in spite of her homophobia) ensconced at Social Cohesion (of all things). The three other women are at Culture, Agriculture and finally a 39-year-old at Research and Science.

Simone Veil (bless her) wielding an awful lot of power, advice and tender loving care (she is a woman after all) in the background.

Progress indeed! On the surface at least.

But wait WHAT is happening over there in the meeja? You know that enlightened metier stuffed to the gills with liberal thinkers. Are those in charge of that oh-so-powerful tool paying heed? Are they heck as like!

Take the case of Beatrice Schoenberg. She’s the main anchor on the weekend evening news on France 2, the country’s main public TV Channel (a French BBC 1). Well she was until February this year when she had to “take a break” while the election campaign heated up. Why? Because she was/is married to Jean-Louis Borloo – a minister in the then government and touted at the time as a potential candidate for Prime Minister should Sarkozy have won.

So poor old BS shunted to the sidelines with the promise of returning to our screens again in her old job in the Summer. But now it appears that’s not to be. Hubby hasn’t been made PM but has still landed one of the top jobs, a fact which evidently prevents BS – with her years of experience – remaining objective. Even before she stepped down every word and nuance was allegedly being analysed and interpreted. So much for equality of opportunity. And now Ms S is to be allowed the highly sought after job of presenting a weekly programme on Celebrities. She must feel as though she has reached the very pinnacle of her career.

Take the case of Christine Okrent, one of this country’s most respected journalists and herself a former presenter of the daily news on that very same channel (albeit several years ago). She has been hosting a critically acclaimed current affairs programme on the other national public channel France 3. But she’s in trouble too because she is married to a certain Bernard Kouchner…..yep that’s right the very same. So what are the chances of her lasting very much longer.

Sad – and nothing new unfortunately. Yonks ago another anchor on France 2, Anne Sinclair, had to resign because she married Dominique Strauss-Kahn (later Finance Minister) and more recently, Marie Drucker said goodbye at France 3 – she was shoved – because she was dating a member of the government.

Meanwhile over at commercial telly, things are hardly any better – in the other direction. TF1 (ITV à la Française) has clearly been smooching with Sarkozy but learned nothing of the gender lesson. Two recent appointments, actually both within the last fortnight went to cronies of the newly elected. And take note, we’re not talking minor jobs here. One will be Chairman and the other Mr S’s former electoral strategist) will also be on the Board. Clearly no conflict of interest there for either of them. Great to see gender justice being exercised. Does the name Berlusconi scream to mind?

Oh yes and during THE debate the week before the Presidential vote, TF1’s top anchor (a man) and France 2’s Head of News (a woman – and funnily enough the one who has just shown Beatrice Schoenberg the door) co-hosted the Sarkozy-Royal battle.

While much was being made of equal time being allocated to both candidates for their answers, data released after the debate showed that parity had fared less well between the presenters and the amount of time they spent posing questions or interjecting. 90:10 per cent. No prizes for guessing in whose favour.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Astonishing politics

It’s hard exactly to judge just how much of a political sea change is underway here in France at the moment. If the hype – no it’s actually much more profound than that – media coverage/saturation (take your pick) is to be believed, then something huge is in the process of being created.

After having swept to victory in the Presidential elections a couple of weeks ago, Sarkozy has gone for the Opposition’s jugular BIG TIME and probably very effectively.

A little recapitulation:

During his campaigning, he appealed in the nicest possible way of course, to supporters of the Far Right “Front Nationale.” Result? Their vote crumbled and their leader’s political career is all but over, and that of his daughter and political strategist, in tatters.

Then of course there was the period between the two rounds of voting when Centrist François Bayrou threw several tizzy fits, demanded Mr S take note of those who had voted for him (a not negligible 18% of the electorate) and even held a broadcast debate with SR. He outed himself as an extremely bad loser and simultaneously announced the launch of his new party (MoDem).

So what did the very, very clever Mr S do? Well before the second round he invited a chunk of Bayrou’s old parliamentary party to ‘come on board” – hardly revolutionary given that they are natural bedfellows really. Stage one of smashing the Centre. Then after the May 6 vote, he went for the double whammy and invited one of Beyrou’s closest political allies and fellow party member, Hervé Morin, into government as Minister of Defence no less. Game set and match as far MoDem is concerned for the immediate future.

So what was Left for Mr S to do? Tum-te-tum…..take aim at the Socialists. Well the Left in general has been all over the place since SR’s loss. The Communists are completely peripheral to events, the gaggle of extreme Left wing parties have crept back into their shells and the Greens…….well they have “unsigned” any electoral pack they had with the Socialists in the upcoming parliamentary elections and are prepared to stand against them in all constituencies.

Meanwhile the Socialists themselves are supposed to be regrouping and preparing for those very important elections in mid June. Instead the “elephants” have taken aim at SR, rehashing claims that she simply wasn’t the right candidate to take on Sarkozy (cries of “It should have been me” from Strauss-Kahn, Fabius and Jospin). Her companion (definitely trouble in paradise there – he’s shagging elsewhere) and president of the Party, François Hollande has called for solidarity (such a good Socialist word that) and “now is the time to focus on how to stop Sarkers in his tracks by gaining a healthy number of seats in the new parliament.” And then Seggers goes and throws a spanner by saying the Party needs to decide as soon as possible who should be the candidate for the 2012 race and then get behind that wo(man) to stop a repeat of “waking up every morning during the campaign to discover what latest snipe had been delivered by a fellow Party member”. Gotta feel for her.

Anyway while they’re all bickering Mr S weighs into the slug fest by appointing “the nation’s favourite Leftwing politician, former Socialist health minister, founder of Medecins Sans Frontieres and general all round good egg, Bernard Kouchner, as FOREIGN MINISTER (“Outrageous opportunist. We’re discontinuing his Party membership. He’ll simply be a puppet” – Hollande).

To make matters worse – or better – depending on your perspective Sarkozy has also appointed several “socially responsible” Centrists to key cabinet posts and announced the creation of 5 Secretaries of State or “Czars” who’ll be responsible for formulating and implementing new policies. One of them is Eric Besson – former campaign strategist for a certain SR, who had his own little tizzy three months ago and vowed to leave “politics behind” (yeah right). And another “Czar” is none other than the director of Emmaus!

DIVIDE AND CONQUER! And the wounds were salted at the beginning of this week when Sarkozy kept to his pledge (in word) of getting all interested parties together (Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, professors of this and that) and TV campaigner Nicolas Hulot) with the newly appointed Deputy Prime Minister/Minister of Ecology/Environment/Transport/Energy and just about anything else you care to name…….oh yes and convicted criminal (the former Prime Minister took the rap for Chirac’s shady dealings and was banished to Canada for a year) Alain Juppé. Good to see that some things never change.

So a lot of Jaw-Jaw about putting the environment at the centre of policy decisions; We’ll see how and whether Mr S can deliver later in the year.

For now he has a whole raft of policies set for the green light, and he’s got a leaner (cleaner, meaner – we’ll see) Cabinet of 15 in place raring to go. But now’t can really happen until after the parliamentary elections….and Mr S is banking on a huge majority (and that seems to be supported in the polls) to be able to force through loadsa legislation in an extraordinary session over the Summer……when let’s face it the whole of France is on holiday and highly unlikely to take to the streets.

So watch this space. I shall definitely be boring you with more missives over the months that follow.

On another note, we Brits…..and especially we Welsh (well my father was from that part of the world and my middle name is Gareth) have a vested interested in the new government here. The Prime Minister, François Fillon is married to a lady from the Valleys – a certain Penelope (pronounced Penny-lope here). Well Yakky – dah indeed!

Saturday, 12 May 2007

Here’s a puzzle……

Can the leopard change its proverbials.?

Well it would appear so if Gorgeous (?!) Gordon’s new hairdon’t is anything to go by. And clearly (shout it from the mountains in honour of his Presbyterian papa) CLEARLY the PR People have had a BIG TIME fist in reshaping his image. And I read he’s having “visions” left, right and centre – although perhaps not politically speaking. Ah Thatcher’s years of misty camera lenses and Saatchi inspired campaigns might yet convince the great British public that Gordon really is a pukka bloke after all.

Meanwhile this side of the Sleeve……Is it a bird? Is it a ‘plane? Nope it’s Supersonic Sarkers. And how are his spots doing after last Sunday’s exploits?

Well he may be small…….sorry I mean short of course…….very short……Napoleonically short…..but man is he fast. All right, all right so he had a bit of a break on a “friend’s” luxury yacht just off Malta for a couple of days (headline news stuff here – polemic actually – a word I never really used or understood before coming to France – I wonder why - but it’s all over the place here a little like dispositif, which the French have for absolutely everything…..but I digress…..for a change) but really on the evidence it was a “working holiday”, giving him the chance to chew the cud and determine what next.

So what’s happening on the spots front as far as soon-to-be President S is concerned? How far down Maggie’s road is he really going as many feared? He certainly appears to be about to keep to his promise to shake things up and revolutionise the country (oh please, please). You know the title of (one of) his book(s) and election campaign was “Ensemble”. Remember while SR wanted to “bond” he wanted to “unite”. Well the that seems to be the case.

He has already said that he is going to slash the size of the cabinet from almost 30 to 10 and he is committed to half-half in terms of men and women (bit of progress on that front). He also pledged to create a super-ministry environment-transport-energy (before the election all the candidates signed a pact with a well-known tree-hugging TV presenter who then withdrew from the race, much to the relief of the Greens as he had about 10 per cent in the polls). And after grabbing much of the far Right vote he now looks set to clobber the Centre and even eat into the Left. Clever, clever man.

He is steering clear of Cronyism and is committed to giving the Top Jobs to those who are up to it. And he’s not beyond making some surprise decisions. He has the backing of a fair number of the centre-right UDF (Bayrou’s party – y’know the geezer wot got 18 per cent in the first round, said he wouldn’t vote for Sarkozy and it now about to launch his own party obviously with an eye on the next presidential election) and will probably include a couple in his government. Furthermore a former Socialist (yep that’s right SOCIALIST) foreign minister, Hubert Verdrine, was seen coming out of his “front door” after talks yesterday! How French and Saunders is that?

I shall personally be completely converted should he extend an invitation to Marie-Georges (why do so many women have men’s names here and vice-versa,) Buffet, the leader of the Communist Party.

In good journalese the feeling in the air (have you noticed how often that terms is used) is that change is on its way. What I want to know is what’s happening on the ground.

I shall undoubtedly keep you posted.
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