Monday, 24 October 2011

How to interest the public in the public interest

It is perhaps because politics tends to be so dull that we go to such lengths to remove all political content from it.

So its not the near-bankruptcy of Italy that puts us off Berlusconi, it’s his inclination to buy sexual favours from under-age girls. In Britain, what really interests us isn’t the fact that the (now former) Minister of Defence wanted to buy an aircraft carrier and leave it without aircraft, as an economy measure, it’s that he’s been flying his boyfriend – or perhaps his non-boyfriend – round the world with him, to make sure that they don’t even have to be separated by international summits.

Of course, the politicians have got smart to this as well. It’s been fascinating to watch what’s been happening in France. The opposition Socialist Party recently launched an exciting new initiative: a primary election to pick the candidate to stand against Sarkozy for the presidency next year (basically to select someone to take up the baton so lamentably dropped by Strauss-Kahn in a New York hotel room – more histories de cul as the French so colourfully express it).

‘Let’s consult the electorate,’ the Socialists claimed, and allowed anyone to vote, whether members of the party or not. So they presented the exercise as a major extension to democracy – but then they would, wouldn’t they? And I’m sure it was tremendously democratic. 

But there was a second benefit, too, which just goes to show that when you do things right, the gods smile on you. Because for months the media kept focusing on what the different candidates were seeing, about politics and – far more – about each other; they gave the Party conference much higher-profile coverage than usual; and, since the election, as is traditional in France, took place over two rounds, the Socialists had public interest up to near frenzy pitch not for just one Sunday, but for two in a row with the full week in between. What a great launch for François Hollande's drive for the Elysée Palace.

Now as an old and unredeemed marketing man, let me assure you that you just can’t buy that kind of publicity, even if you had the budget for it. All round Europe, other opposition parties must be green with envy. They’d give their eye-teeth to be treated that seriously by the media. It drove such minor matters as Sarkozy’s war in Libya or his eleventh-hour negotiations to try to save the euro right off the front pages.

Of course, he did his best to get back at them, reacting with precisely the kind of political initiative that one might expect: his wife produced the first child ever born to a sitting president in France. Good attempt, but sadly not enough by a long stroke. The French aren’t that impressed. After all, compared to a Socialist Party pulling off a marketing coup, it isn’t all that striking to learn that Sarko and Bruni knew how to produce a child. After all, they’d both done it before.

The happy expectant couple
But we knew she had it in her
And it’s all terribly sad, in a sense, because for the first time since I've heard of Sarkozy, he's just done something for which I can feel unqualified admiration. Yesterday he told David Cameron, Britain's Prime Minister and misfortune, that this might not be a bad time for him to stop moaning on about the Euro, which his country isn’t part of, and shut up.

Sarkozy telling anyone else to put a sock in it is all a bit pot and kettle, of course, but if the kettle really is black, who can reasonably criticise the pot for saying so?


Anonymous said...

I tried very hard to LIKE Sarko telling Cameron where to get off, "you've lost an excellent opportunity for keeping your mouth shut" is a great line, but I simply could not make myself approve of ANYBODY being so rude on the word stage. The language Sarko used is the sort of thing you'd expect the teenagers at Manshead to come up with.


David Beeson said...

San, I think your point is well made and you may well be right, and I may be wrong, but the attitude I favour is that sometimes it's refreshing to see someone drop all that diplomatic verbiage and say what they actually mean.

After all, the Euro problem is huge and intractable and the decisions this week have given about the best chance since its inception actually to solve it. That was the work of a number of European leaders, but most of all, of the French and Germans. Now I have no time for Sarko, but his team at least made an absolutely vital contribution. They knew how tough it was, they must have known how their own limitations sometimes made the job harder which must have got to their consciences, and they must have felt that a character sat on the sidelines, uninvolved in the core matter of the Euro itself, but yapping all the time, must have been desperately irritating.

And what was Cameron saying? That it was urgent to find a solution. Does anyone really believe they didn't know that?

No, Cameron was infuriating and needed to shut up. There's so much I can criticise Sarko for, but I'm afraid I sympathise with him on this one.

As, without being by any stretch of the imagination a royalist, I revelled in the moment when Juan-Carlos of Spain told that brutal buffoon Hugo Chávez to shut up. 'Callate Chávez' - what a wonderful thing to say to that demagogue in love with the sound of his own voice.