Tuesday, 15 May 2007

So far, Sarko

The result came through while I was in London working. Nicolas Sarkozy had achieved his ambition to be the top dog in France.

He's angled for it and thanks to a spectacularly useless Socialist party, he's got it.

Technically the Socialists should have waltzed their way into the Elysée Palace, the stasis of Jacques Chirac's 12 years at the helm energising their steps to power.

In the papers I was reading in England, it was reported that boys and girls on the left had started to wage their internal war once the defeat was known. Quite how all the brains from France's top schools didn't realise that the time to change was before the election lends an ironic credibility to Sarkozy's reformist zeal.

Well another five years out of power should invigorate somnolent minds. Yet if 12 years of impotence didn't do the trick, I'm not entirely convinced that another five will be any different.

In this betwixt the cities world I inhabit, it's unclear how Sarkozy's ascension will affect my life in Paris.

As I emerged from Chateau D'Eau metro station, Boulevard de Strasbourg was eerily quiet. Hardly any traffic, very few people. Even the hawkers for the hairdressing salons that line the boulevard from Strasbourg St Denis up to the Gare de L'Est had gone.

The fact that they're all African, I thought people are really running scared.

But the silence was probably attributable to the latest bank holiday uberweekend.

Since the holiday to celebrate the end of the second world war on May 8 fell on a Tuesday this year, and with the schools having their usual Wednesday off, clearly people had decided to get out.

While Sgt Major Sarko wants to get his horrible lot back to the basics of hard work by ending the 35 hour week, there's been no mention of reducing bank holidays and thus the intellectual ingenuity of organising "ponts" which combine the end of one week with the national holiday and a belated start to the following working week.

Arch masters of the art brag about their "viaducs". I've never been able to negotiate such channels of thought because I'm invariably being whisked by a Eurostar through my "tunnel" on a Sunday morning.

Were I to stay in France I'd probably be able to cash in on the joys of my brood. After having the third child last year and becoming a famille nombreuse, we've qualified for reductions on our utility bills, 50 per cent of metro journeys as well as 30 per cent off travel on SNCF. The pass for free swimming in municipal pools has offered me a new suppleness.

There are even reductions for the city's art galleries. But that's immaterial to me as I've already unlimited access via my press card (See CARD WORKS).

A lot of Sgt Major Sarko's vitriol has been directed at the bloated indolent. One wheeze is to withdraw benefits if a person spurns too many job offers. As the chopper glints, reducing tax always seems appealing but there comes a point when having extra money doesn't make that much difference.

I'm not likely to be able to go out and buy a bigger apartment or finance a more luxurious car. And if more money in my pocket correlates to a deterioration in public transport and schools, then I see no actual gain.

The trick will be to maintain the things like vaguely decent schools and hospitals while wealth increases across the board.

After all, as we've seen in Britain - which is held out by the Sgt Major's brigade as a model - we may be better at job creation but what good is being richer if you die from a superbug contracted in a dirty hospital ward?

Something like 730 cars were torched after the Sgt Major's anointment. Youths clashed with riot police at the Place de la Bastille. Oh please. Democracy? Bonjour.

The Socialists showed their collective ineptitude by taking a while to condemn the violence.

And so the suburbs seethe because the man who called yesteryear's rioters scum is president of the country.

I don't go to the suburbs. I travel past high rise estates and some rather genteel enclaves on the train when I go to play football on a Saturday morning. I find both standards unappealing because, for me, they're remote. But obviously it's easier to escape when you're affluent.

When I lived in paris 12 years ago I wrote an article for the music magazine Straight No Chaser about four films which concentrated on the lives in "la banlieue".

Mathieu Kassovitz's La Haine was the most celebrated. But there were three others - Krim, Rai and Etat des Lieux - which all offered their visions. Gilles Favier, a photojournalist, had an exhibition of pictures taken while La Haine was being shot.

When I went to talk to him about his show, he told me about the postcode apartheid - rejection because of your area and the double whammy if your surname happens not to be Le Blanc.

During the latest presidential campaign I lived the loop. A TV crew ventured into one of the banlieue to speak to twentysomethings of North African descent.

And in 2007 they said....they couldn't get any jobs because of their address and, they suspected, their names.

While Tony Blair frets about his legacy to Britain after 10 years as prime minister, Chirac bequeaths his land the Sgt Major, a man who seems not to give a damn about those floundering in the social gulf.

The elite eat with the elite, it is true. But even the Old Etonian fibres within the Tory leader David Cameron sense that he has to reach out beyond his privileged post Oxbridge norms. So he goes and spends a week with a Muslim family in Birmingham. Ostentatious? Maybe. Condescending? Debatable. But he may have harvested a grain of insight.

No such clairvoyance here in France. Even after defeat the Socialists still demonise the Sgt Major and with him 25 million or so who voted for him.

But the next stop is obvious. Woo and engage. If the devil is into the detail of the country, then the self-styled gods had better descend from their ideological stratospheres and present a plausible reason for people to turn away from evil.

Why they can't see that leaves me baffled. But then I came to France to broaden my mind.