Friday, 25 May 2012

Bruni Brouhaha!

Last Monday, French media were reporting that Carla Bruni and Nicolas Sarkozy were in a Moroccan palace as guests of the King. But Carla was in Paris, coyly sitting on the lap of a handsome guy in red socks. This was at the shooting of a scene for her sister Valeria Bruni Tedeschi’s new film. She was playing an extra in an auction scene at Sotheby’s in the rue Faubourg St Honoré: the latter doubling as Sotheby’s London in which the scene is scripted.
I was there, also playing an extra and as the day’s work went on all afternoon and into the evening had ample time to study Carla. Wearing a faded print dress, and bare legged in open toed sandals (despite the thrashing rain outside) she posed for cosy photos with Mr Red Socks and later (after Red Socks had left) with a tall silver haired actor. Her technique was to cuddle her cheek up against theirs, pull her hair around on one side and pout into the camera.
The film tells of a rich Italian family in hard times, auctioning their antiques and the scene involves a dramatic interruption when the character played by Valeria herself (who was also directing) tries to withdraw a painting seconds after the auctioneer’s gavel has fallen.
Valeria's and Carla’s mother was in the film. Madame Bruni Tedeschi was seated next to Valeria with whom she clearly has a good relationship. But Carla sat far away from them and never once spoke to either of them. Nor was she ever on camera.
Valeria, a successful and award winning film-maker may be telling her family’s own story based on the tragedy of her brother’s death from HIV complications. Clearly stressed at the double role of directing the scene in which elegantly dressed English speakers played the audience, Valeria then had to deal with a violent outburst from a big name star who was playing one of the bidders for the painting.
Omar Sharif, handsome and distinguished in grey pinstripes suddenly began yelling at Valeria. He had already done some cutaway shots with the only camera and was now sitting some distance behind Valeria as she made repeated takes of her scripted outburst to the auctioneer (played by a handsome real life auctioneer). Sharif appears to have nodded off to sleep and someone had awakened him. He now yelled out that Valeria had had him sitting around doing nothing for five hours. When she tried to reply he yelled at her repeatedly to shut up and sit down.
As for Carla, she remained off to one side, head down for the most part. No doubt she was anxious lest her presence in Paris be too noticeable since she was supposed to be in Morocco with her husband and baby daughter. But about one hundred and fifty people can hardly have failed to notice her presence, or that of her double, at the Sotheby’s shoot.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Flanby Flambé

Everyone has by now had a chuckle at the news that Francois Hollande, the newly elected President of France was almost lost to history when his plane was struck by lightning last Tuesday some five hours after his Inauguration. He had barely had time to swallow his valedictory lunch when he was on his way to confer with Angela Merkel, a Valkyrie who appeared before him as Valkyries do appear before warriors when they are about to die. Hollande, aptly nicknamed “Flanby” after a brand of caramel custard pudding (bland, slippery and syrupy) was flying with unseemly haste to meet the Iron Chancellor, thus perhaps inviting the anger of Thor the Thunder God.
Why, one wonders, would he not have waited to have a quiet word with Merkel during the following weekend’s G8? Coupled with his announcement of a German scholar and former teacher as his Prime Minister, does this not seem like bending over backwards to please the Germans? Surely we have been here before?
There is something about this leader that made me enquire, before his election on May 6th if there were any way by which an elected President could be replaced under the French constitution. Not only due to his plane being struck by lightning.
If a President dies in office the President of the Senate takes charge of the government while new elections are organized.  But, what of unconstitutional methods of replacement?
One evening in April before Round 1 of the Presidential vote, I was returning from a minor late night shopping trip on the Champs Elysées when the most almighty row broke out in the street. Some 100 police cars were jamming the avenue with their sirens blaring, lights flashing. I rode my bike down the pavement and into the park that separates the Champs Elysées from the Avenue Gabriel, where the lush gardens and ornate rear gates of the Elysée Palace, and the American and British Embassies are routinely guarded by uniformed police.
To my surprise, rue Marigny, leading to the rue Faubourg St Honore and the Elysée’s front entrance was also blocked by a line of police cars, lights flashing and sirens screaming. All routes to the Presidential Palace were cut off and surrounded. Sneaking along among the trees without lights, I saw silhouetted uniformed figures carrying guns lined up behind the Elysée’s tall garden gates. Golly, I thought, is this a Coup d’Etat? Even before the first round of the Presidential election, could fears of who might be elected, either the extreme left Mélenchon or the extreme right Le Pen with riots to follow have prompted a ‘leave nothing to chance’ military takeover?
It seems the police were protesting about the prosecution of a colleague for shooting dead a runaway thief, and the Army were guarding the Elysée against the rebel cops. Further down the leafy Avenue Gabriel near Place de La Concorde, the blue vans of the Police National were lined up in case they needed to reinforce the military defenders of the President’s palace.
It was spectacularly alarming. But not perhaps as disquieting an omen as the Biblical style meteorological phenomena in the hours before Hollande’s election, or those that occurred before, during and immediately after his inauguration on May 15th. The night before the election a torrential three hour storm led to a night of steady rain so that when I walked by the Seine as the election results were announced the following evening, I had to dodge the waves sloshing over the side of the quai. The river had risen three meters and was about to burst its banks. Meanwhile, the celebrants of Hollande’s victory who danced the rest of the evening in the streets around Bastille did so without any sense of foreboding.
Perhaps they were right? I think not. Hollande, or Flanby, the apt nickname by which I prefer to call him, is no Moses. He does not possess the gifts of foresight, eloquence and leadership to guide his country through the coming crises of the European Union. Perhaps Noah would be a more useful President. Flanby’s idea of economic growth is one based on government spending and taxation, shored up by more debt. This loony idea is now spreading. And Obama, King of the Big Spenders is holding Flanby’s limp hand on this whizz of a notion. The torrential rainstorm during the Inauguration and the lightning strike on the flight to Germany seem omens of a future fraught with dangers as yet unknown.  Pie in the sky or fries in the sky: no difference. 

Friday, 11 May 2012

The One Who Got Away!

While François Hollande may be pinching himself to find out if he really is the new President of France, Dominique Strauss Khan must be kicking himself for getting into that scrape in the Sofitel in New York. He would undoubtedly by now be President of France, and there must be many who feel Hollande is a poor substitute for the former Director of the IMF. Others are frankly relieved at the narrow escape thanks to the courage of a hotel maid, since other horrors are now coming to light.
Sarkozy may also be kicking himself for having kicked so many other people during his Presidency and before. But the one man who would have made the best choice yet for the French electors is wondering whether he will have a better chance in five years and preparing the ground now for the future after the legislative elections on June 10th and 17th.
François Bayrou believes he is destined to be President if France; but to be elected he may have to change his tactics. For the moment however, he remains the one candidate who brought intelligence, truthfulness and statesmanship into a scurrilous campaign in which the two second round candidates scrambled for the votes of the extreme left and the far right, some 30 per cent of all votes cast in the first round. Neither of them sincerely revealed the true state of the French economy to their voters. Neither showed themselves to be capable of solving the great problems of our era. Neither deserved election. For Hollande it was a win by several defaults, the first being DSK’s elimination from the PS leadership contest, the final one being the loathing of many voters for Sarkozy. One must regard him as weakened from the start by the fact that many voted against Sarkozy rather than for Hollande.
Bayrou, is leader of the Centre Party, MoDem. (Democratic Movement). His message during the campaign for Round 1, in which he won some 10 per cent of the poll, after which he was eliminated, was far to close to truthful reality. He was disappointed to have scored fewer votes than in 2007, but having read some of his interviews I wonder if it was because he painted too frightening a picture of the economic road ahead. His Paris meeting attracted more than 6,000 and many more were turned away. Clearly there was enormous interest in a way forward that does not depend upon polarization to the extremes. The extremes, however used simplistic messages such as one would expect in an appeal to class based voters more driven by fear and hatred than by an intelligent interest in solving national problems, and thus pulled voters’ attention away from the rational liberal centrist viewpoint.
Following Round 1, on April 25th, Bayrou sent a thoughtful letter to the two contestants of Round 2. Its gist was an appeal, on behalf of those 3 million people who had voted for him. He wasn’t looking for a job in government and had already ruled out the idea that he could become Prime Minister whoever won. He appealed to Hollande and Sarkozy “to refuse the resort to violent opinions such as those that are perpetually present in political life, to respect ethnic and cultural differences and accept pluralism, to search for equilibrium.” These views are characteristically liberal but against the trend in which the Front National could gain almost 20 per cent of the poll in Round 1 on a dominant issue of reducing immigration to 3 per cent of its present rate.  In the days following Round 1 Sarkozy increasingly adopted Le Pen’s racialist policies and this was why Bayrou announced that he would cast his Round 2 vote for Hollande.
He is also alarmingly honest about the economic future for France, saying “ I don’t believe that the financial crisis is behind us. On the contrary, I think it is ahead of us and will be very tough.” He added that he believed “the goal of a balanced budget cannot be attained by either Hollande or Sarkozy’s pledges to create growth in the short term. He added a demand for credible measures to avoid the perils ahead including social democracy within companies, and a new contract between schools and the nation to create skills needed for modern society.
His appeal for a moralization of public life went beyond anything expressed by other candidates. Perhaps more than any other of his views, this one is the clue to his own moral and ideological stature, which is far above that of either Hollande or Sarkozy.
“It’s urgent” he wrote. ”This moralization is vital in order that confidence is restored between citizens and the elected.”
In Round 2 the French voters split evenly into two opposing camps --Hollande (52%) Sarkozy (48%). Many voted more against than for either candidate, more against than for a specific future for France: voting on their fears; voting for yesterday’s dreams rather than tomorrow’s realities. Bayrou will have to do a lot of convincing to get them to adhere to his views before the next Presidential. That five years seems too short a time span for a change from Mickey Mouse politics to intelligent choice: unless France goes through a serious crisis during Hollande’s watch. That could be the force majeur that triggers the election of a President who tells them the truth about their prospects in the future world rather than one who indulges their old illusions of a worn out past.
His self appointed mission now is to pull together a confused centre into what he calls an independent pole. He appears to be feeling his way and for good reason. The National Assembly elections on June 10th and 17th will decide the representation of the parties in the National Parliament. Sarkozy’s UMP have announced they will field a strong local candidate (Chairman of local hunting and fishing societies) against Bayrou in his Pyrenean constituency where Hollande’s PS are fielding a first timer but have strong support. It could lose him his seat. While that will leave a vacuum in the parliamentary centre, that will not prevent him from pursuing his presidential ambitions from outside the legislature: but it will be a setback for his plan to create a coherent focus for a centrist thrust under the banner “Le Centre Pour La France,”(“The Centre for France.”) In a country so riven by extremist views and inequalities of opportunity, it seems a monumental task. But sometimes all the winds of change need to do their work is a funnel through which to pick up speed and find direction. Monsieur Bayrou, I am watching you.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Dinner at the Crillon

I was passing the Hotel Crillon the other night when I was apprehended by a young journalist. Brandishing a microphone, he asked me if I knew what was going on at the Crillon. I did not. He told me a dinner was being held there and he, a freelance journalist, had watched top politicians, leaders of industry and executives of TV companies go inside.
“ They won't talk to us” he said, indicating a number of others who were hanging around the Crillon’s front door. “What should they talk to you about?” I asked.
We then held a discussion about the election, the aspirations of ordinary French people and the “fixit quick “show of  a “Power Clique.” What were they going to talk about at this dinner?
“Perhaps they are trying to decide the best way to work with Hollande?” he suggested.
“Or try to ensure Sarkozy is reelected?” I ventured.
I told him that it has been my opinion since last autumn that Sarkozy will not be reelected. My correspondent said he thought there was little difference between Sarko and Hollande since both were supporters of the “undemocratic EU government”
I had to agree with him there. However there are a number of other serious differences between the results of continuing with Sarko, or of electing Hollande.
Hollande has a much cooler temperament than Sarko (who can't agree with anyone about anything without hysterics--if at all). Hollande is said to be charming, a bon viveur who has a weight problem and who dyes his hair. He needs a tailor too. His suit jacket buttons at a stretch over his belly, his trousers settle in folds over his shoes. I'm told his speeches are marred by a poor use of the French language. He is certainly no firebrand. It's just as well, we have seen some flashy oratory in the run up to the first poll and that was from Jean-Luc Melenchon the far left candidate. In contrast, Hollande seems someone who will do what everyone wants provided no one else puts too much pressure on him.
As to what he believes? When he looks in the mirror he hopes to see a reflection of François Mitterand looking back at him. My analysis is that he believes in the most convenient way of running the country following the status quo.
He is not a leader. One hopes he is not be quite as dull as he looks, but it would be optimistic to expect much from him. He has had a privileged upbringing and education, is trained as an administrator at the top French establishments, including l’ENA, from which come most of the directors of France’s State controlled companies. Many of them have been dismal failures at their jobs. Take a look at Credit Lyonnaise, Vivendi and other nationalized companies and see how the earnings graph descends to catastrophe. L’ENA boys were running these companies and took big golden parachutes as they collapsed. As I mentioned in my last blog, the Old Etonian Mafia has nothing on this old boy network. It will be interesting to see how many elite ENA buddies get jobs in a Hollande administration and what solutions they will find to change the business culture of France.
Hollande is too lazy to look for original solutions, too unimaginative to consider innovative fiscal reforms to stimulate growth for new enterprises, to, for instance restructure the tax regime that cripples France and her private enterprise. No, he prefers the method of job creation by the State paid for by the middle class taxpayer, usually the salaried executive. As for the rich, they have their tax loopholes and the march of private capital over the French borders into Luxemburg, Monaco, and other cozy havens will continue and even accelerate after Hollande's election.
But Hollande wont be making any sacrifices. He will earn the usual Presidential salary but his security comes from the right wing doctor father who supported Jean-Louis Tixier Vigancour, presidential candidate and a forerunner of Le Pen the father of the present FN leader, Marine Le Pen.
Holland’s mother was a socialist counselor and a social worker by profession who may have had more influence on her son’s political direction. But Hollande and his brother inherited comfortably from his father’s investment in medical clinics and real estate. In actuality Hollande, who is accused of hating the middle class, hating the rich, lives not too modestly in a 3,000€ a month rented apartment with his companion, a French journalist since his official separation in 2007 from his former companion Segolène Royal (Socialist Presidential candidate in 2007) with whom he has four professionally qualified children. He rents another apartment in his constituency and owns a villa in the sought after hillsides above Cannes supposedly worth a modest 800,000€ but probably more since the real estate price inflation for the past two years. His career lacks lustre: he is a lawyer as well as a graduate of prestigious universities; he has held a series of posts in the Parti Socialist, among which his tenure as chargé of mission for  economic affairs at the Elysée after the election of his hero Mitterand, showed some promise as well as the strength of his supporters, Jaques Attali and Jaques Delors. Otherwise, there is nothing to excite. Indeed his CV makes ones eyes glaze over. He is a Deputé (MP) for a department that has more cows than people and where the per head public spending figures for 2010 (the most recent published) are three times the average for any other department in France; he has never held major office except as Mayor of Tulle, a little town in his constituency. Twenty-one years ago I published a biography of John Major, a Prime Minister widely advertised as being "The Grey Man" but who turned out to be marvelously colourful under the camouflage. Perhaps Hollande will surprise us by being found out to have been hiding his colourful side throughout his career as a dull administrator?
If he wins, and I believe he will sneak past the winning post on Sunday, he will be President by default. Many people are voting against Sarkozy in an election where the choice is between the devil you know and someone who may be a steady hand on the wheel, who may still be surprised to find himself in the position of President in Europe's second largest economy. He was a reluctant candidate in this election—the socialists were floored at the ruin of DSK as candidate presumptive-- Martine Aubry said she did not want the job but ran a contest with Hollande to see which of these two mediocrities would draw the short straw of standing against Sarkozy.
As for the latter, you may have to wait until next week for my views on him. And this will probably be, after Sunday’s poll, an obituary.