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Colin Randall wrote here on France, things Anglo-French and more......but has moved

November 30, 2006

The way to treat a lady

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Even as Nicolas Sarkozy formally announces what everyone has known for years - that he intends to stand for the French presidency - an eye-catching trip by Ségolène Royal to the Middle East threatens to steal his thunder.

Sarko undeniably represents a formidable obstacle to Mme Royal's hopes of becoming the first female president.

But just how formidable is becoming increasingly tricky to gauge as the Ségo phenomenon continues to achieve the improbable - making French politics interesting outside France in what is still a non-election year.

International attention packs little electoral muscle, of course. Yet even that works both ways; a lot of the overseas support for Sarko tends to come from the sort of conservatives from whom millions of French voters would run a kilometre or two.

At home, Sarko plainly has work to do, and an illuminating vox pop in Le Figaro offers a little advice on how he should treat a lady when that lady stands between him and the Elysée.

The paper canvassed the views of several prominent females from the party and the responses revealed hints of anxiety that M Sarkozy's tendency to shoot first and reflect later may cost him votes.

"Nicolas must take care not to be aggressive, but to tackle her ideas and not the person," warned Isabelle Debré, a UMP senator. "The slightest gesture could be raise charges of misogyny."

Arlette Franco, from the western Pyrénées, wanted to see more of a side to Sarko that we generally encounter only when he is having one of his marital reconciliations.

"He needs to offer reassurance, to show himself to be warm, human and interested in social questions as well as security," she said.

Another Arlette - Grosskost, from Haut-Rhin - suggested that Sarko should surround himself with more women, lighten his hard-line image and acknowledge that Mme Royal's appeal by-passed political logic.

And a Parisian MP, Martine Aurillac, went so far as to offer the sort of counsel even France's macho hommes politiques would consider patronising: "Don't launch into discussions that are too technical, statistical, complicated."

Her theme was taken up by Valérie Pécresse, spokesman for the centre-Right UMP party of which Sarko is president. Confronting a female opponent, she said, was to be engaged not in a classic clash of forces but in a clash of conviction.

"You have to address the people in very simple terms," she said, while adding loyally that Sarko understood this parfaitement.

The subtext of all this is clear enough. Sarko may be capable
of tearing Ségo apart in contentious debate, but should weigh up whether it would actually do him much good?

We know Mme Royal has so far shown little substance to go with the lashings of style, a point of view that surfaced in France long before it became a British media cliché.

It has done her little damage in the polls. One of my own human barometers of middle France opinion, a middle-aged, mid-management bank employee (and typical UMP voter) living in the provinces, summed it up quite neatly.

"You say we don't know what she stands for, that she is woolly on the main issues," he said. "I think that's part of what the French like about her. There's less to be scared of."

Sarko profits this week from a flurry of attention surrounding his announcement. But unless Ségo commits some appalling gaffe in Lebanon, Israel or the Palestinian territories, she stands a good chance of bagging at least equal airtime and headlines for the right reasons.

Adding a thought after the event, it is even possible to say that when the gaffe came - failing to slap down a Hizbollah attempt to equate Israel with the Nazis - she and her supporters performed some smart wriggling.

We should all stand by, I'd guess, for a little more evidence of Ségo steel in the coming weeks and months, and for the odd sign of a mellower Sarko.

He may have taken heed of those female colleagues already. The famous promise of "rupture" - implying a complete break with failed policies of France's recent past, however this might enrage surly unions and those desperate to cling to outdated privilege - has already been watered down.

Now, he says, it will be a "peaceful rupture".

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17 Comments:

At November 30, 2006 3:55 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

If Ségolène Royal wins the French presidency and in 2008 Hilary Clinton goes to the White House, which is not outside the bounds of possibility, then perhaps they might start coaxing the world back onto a saner path. "Ségo steel" and Clinton's own steely determination notwithstanding, neither of them is remotely like Britain's execrable Iron Lady. There's cause for optimism in that.

 
At November 30, 2006 4:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The passes of privilege to which some aspire.
Are evident still in quill and quire.
If bare ruined choirs have had their day.
Were they not the best,so you could have your say?

 
At November 30, 2006 5:00 PM, Blogger Louise said...

Think Hilary is made of sterner stuff than Sego and am still convinced that Sarko will tie her in knots, but to me it is still the lesser of two evils - if we are voting for a President on looks, then of course I would vote for de Villepin if I could and if he runs, as I think he is GORGEOUS! And don't all shout - all you Sego fans out there have so far only commented on her dress sense!

By the way Bill, I've just finished the autobiography of Albert Pierrepoint - what a strange man...it is difficult to read as it is badly written but his comments on whether capital punishment really was a deterrent were most interesting.

 
At November 30, 2006 5:01 PM, Anonymous SH said...

In supposing a straight contest between Sarko and Sego, Colin Randall ignores the fact that Chirac has not yet announced his intentions. What sort of spanner would this throw in the works if Jacques decided - he's only 74 after all - to stand for re-election ?

I'd be interested to hear your ideas on this.

 
At November 30, 2006 5:11 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

A very strange man, Louise. I stick to my belief that Pierrepoint had a psychopathic streak and was, in effect, a serial killer wearing a cloak of legality. There's a horrible smugness there when, after hanging however many hundreds of people, he says he doesn't believe it did any good.
Realistically, is Chirac likely to run again? If he did and won and if Hilary Clinton won in the U.S., Chirac might form an interesting political partnership with Bill Clinton, in the shape of "First Gentleman."

 
At November 30, 2006 5:13 PM, Blogger Louise said...

Yep, it's always a possibility especially as Chirac has a rather large amount of skeletons hanging around and if no longer President will no longer have immunity and will probably be guillotined!

 
At November 30, 2006 5:19 PM, Blogger Colin Randall said...

The possibility of Chirac standing, unpopular and ineffectual though he is, and the grim prospect of Le Pen again winning a sizeable chunk of the votes, are indeed fascinating factors.
I have previously discussed the second, but not - perhaps because I try to convince myself Chirac just wouldn't try it - the first (except in passing).
In either case, Ségo or Sarko could end up fighting to avoid being ditched, Jospin-style, in round one.
ps it is not my wish that the family snap should appear with posted comments. I will stop it happening if I can work out how.

 
At November 30, 2006 5:28 PM, Blogger Louise said...

One would hope that Chirac wouldn't be dumb enough to stand again, but Presidents do tend to have enormous egos, and Bernadette did mutter something about him standing last week ...

Le Pen will yet again be in the running if he can get his 500 'votes' or whatever they call them but I wonder whether he will have the same impact this time - Sarko seems to have pinched his immigration/integration remarks (If you don't love it (la France), leave it).

At the last elections I am sure that certain people I know voted for le Pen but no-one admitted it. The people who I suspected are all, without exception, Sarko 'fans', but of course it is more PC to say so, n'est pas?

 
At November 30, 2006 5:29 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

But it's a lovely picture, Colin -- a family to be proud of! Why would you try to hide them?

 
At November 30, 2006 5:33 PM, Blogger Louise said...

Forgot to say that I think the photo when you post is a good idea...when the blog is long, various photos work as 'bookmarks' when one is scrolling down.

 
At November 30, 2006 5:42 PM, Blogger richard of orléans said...

Colin R what is with the lack of ‘substance’? Is somebody who became the emblematic leader of the crushing socialist victory in the regional elections and went on to wipe the floor in the socialist primaries just an air head? I can't decide what this de rigueur knocking of Ségo by English journalists is about. (This has been picked up by the English masses themselves who say, like parrots “she has no policies”) Jealousy? Misogyny ? Perfidiousness? Maybe it is just British conservativeness that abhors change.

 
At November 30, 2006 5:46 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

Could be the "Iron Lady" syndrome, Richard. They're unable (or don't wish) to see past Margaret Thatcher, forgetting that Britain is still paying for the depredations of her glory days.

 
At December 01, 2006 8:59 AM, Anonymous SH said...

There is apparently the possibility that another lady might enter the French presidential contest. Michèle Alliot-Marie (MAM) could decide to stand, as well as the "gorgeous" de Villepin, for whom being elected as anything would be a new experience. What price an all-female contest? I really don't see Hilary Clinton getting into the White House, though.

 
At December 01, 2006 3:20 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

That would be the first all-female race for a head of state in history, wouldn't it?
Yeah, it's a long shot for Hilary Clinton but not, I think, outside the bounds of possibility.

 
At December 01, 2006 6:01 PM, Anonymous SH said...

The first all-female race for head of state? What about Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, the latter losing by a short head!

 
At December 03, 2006 11:18 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

Touche! Good one.

 
At December 07, 2006 11:16 AM, Blogger Colin Randall said...

Of course, as Richard knows perfectly well since he reads the French press, suggestions that Mme Royal lacks substance originated not in the wicked British press but in France. The criticism, some of it quite sexist, came from French commentators and from rival politicians (some of them from her own party) and started before much of the British media was greatly interested in her.

 

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