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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

“Oui, premier ministre!”

Samizdata Illuminatus occasionally has a turn of phrase that I can only envy:

“This bespeaks a political elite on the Continent of Europe that is increasingly aloof and out of touch with ordinary citizens. On one level, this is encouraging, because such arrogance usually comes before a fall from grace. However, it also suggests that if the situation is not tackled soon, the anger boiling up in Germany and elsewhere could turn ugly.”

I don’t know about Germany but I can report that to some extent the problem of an out of touch elite may be addressed in France. Unlike anywhere else in Western Europe the French presidential election in France this year produced a second round run-off between one right-wing sleazeball and a beyond the pale authoritarian populist. The Socialist Party candidate got less than one in five votes on such a low turnout that the abstention rate alone spoke of “a crisis for democracy”.

In Britain we’ve become so accustomed to hearing hyped up scaremongering every time a racialist candidate gets more than 500 votes in Blackburn, that we don’t realise that the scared commentators in France were, well… really scared.

Unlike Britain, most of Europe contains large numbers of people who actually know what it’s like to have soldiers kick down the door of their home, or a neighbour’s. So a “breakdown of democracy” isn’t just another excuse for a BBC Today programme on how much more money should the Government be spending on bureaucrat salaries, to be glibly agreed with by a twerpish politician with some new policy initiative or task-force.

In France the Left are in the sort of panic not seen since Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte staged a coup d’etat in December 1851. It is worse for the French Left than when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, because it is in France. The right on the other hand thought they’d achieved this before: in 1986 when a general law on privatisation was passed (a model for any mixed-economy to copy), in 1995 when an attempt to take on the public sector lasted all of two weeks. The right-wing reformers are more cautious but this time there are four important differences:

  1. The Ecole Normale de l’Administration (ENA) system of mandarin elites is seen to be part of the problem. President Chirac is conveniently not reminding us that he is of course a graduate of that establishment.

    Jean-Pierre Raffarin, the Prime Minister is represented by leftist cartoonists as a beret wearing ordinary bloke with a shopping bag and his baguettes. Not exactly the ivory tower grandee. The Prime Minister is incidentally responsible for domestic politics while the President plays foreign statesman.

    He is also a member of what was democratie liberale (DL) the party in France which had a libertarian element to it. Raffarin would never get into ENA, and he is all the more popular for it. DL is now part of the new super-party called UMP – Union for a Presidential Majority.

    A recent debate was held on whether to abolish the ENA outright. The purpose was to reinforce the notion that the new government isn’t from that school.

  2. Instead of twittering about “community programmes” i.e. more bureaucrats wasting even more money to infuriate local communities into voting fascist, the French government has decided to tackle the two biggest problems: crime and trade unions.

    Nicolas Sarkhozy was mocked by the French left for having been the Mayor of the chic suburb of Neuilly sur Seine to the West of Paris. As Mayor he hired extra police, improved street lighting and made some moves towards municipal privatisation. Most French people wouldn’t mind living there. As Interior Minister with responsibility for policing, Sarkhozy has announced plans to build thirty new prisons. Criminals are reportedly looking for alternative careers. The coup in dumping most of the Sangatte refugee camp inmates on the UK, seems to be pretty good for Sarkhozy.

    That recent lorry dispute in France we didn’t hear about: Sarkhozy used Thatcherite class war tactics against the unions. The French media were persuaded to report that the lorry unions represent less than 4 per cent of drivers. Normally they make the BBC sound like Rush Limbaugh. The strikers were threatened with prosecution if they blocked the highways. “Breakaway” drivers who wanted to work were found for TV and radio programmes to give support to the police. If this sounds like the British miners’ strike of 1984-5 to us, the French unions certainly have got the message. Even electricity privatisation (opposed by President Chirac less than a year ago – see my posting on him) is back on the agenda, despite the fact that the EDF monopoly effectively pays for the French Communist Party.

    The result is a sense that this lot mean business, albeit not always in the right direction.

  3. The Left are reduced to fielding convicted killers as their new (old) elite. Laurent Fabius and Elisabeth Guigou are contaminated by the mass infection of haemophiliacs by the French equivalent of the Blood Transfusion Service. To avoid using American screening methods, hundreds of people were given blood contaminated with HIV.

    Thanks to the euro, French Socialists (PS) can’t promise economic policies of the sort of say, the British Labour government (or their Conservative predecessors for that matter). The PS is reduced to hoping that their Tony Blair clone – Dominique Strauss-Kahn – can get over a couple of corruption problems (one involving an alleged attempt to pervert the course of justice).

  4. Having failed on so many occasions in the recent past, I sense a quiet determination that is most unusual.

As usual when Chirac is involved, the threat comes from him, his trendy leftist daughter, and Alain Juppe, a Chirac for the next generation (among others a failed prime minister, like Chirac) who is trying to sabotage Raffarin behind the scenes. And yes, Juppe is an Enarque…

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2 comments to “Oui, premier ministre!”

  • We should be optimistic. The European democracies do contain the seeds for their own renewal because they are accountable, in however twisted a way, to their electorates.

    The result is that they start addressing the problems their voters feel are important – usually crime, immigration and unemployment. You have to be unusually incompetent to cock this up.

    However, if the “first true supranational democracy” is born, such accountability may wane.

  • How can there be “a crisis for democracy” as such. The very phrase begs the question there was a state of democracy. I am unsurprised at low turnouts considering that mainstream parties do not represent the interests of a large number of people. Instead of these geese moaning on about their defunct system of voting, they could do better by making a few real changes here and there. Lipservice will do no good for the people they are supposed to represent.