Tuesday, 19 June 2007

You only whine when you're winning

The first journey back to London after a few weeks away always seems strange. Staying in Paris is the rarity so going to London after a three week hiatus shouldn't be that much of a problem. Obviously I'm out of touch. So much so that I'd inadvertently booked myself into first class on the Eurostar for the trip on Sunday morning.

I didn't harangue myself too much as I settled into a big seat and waited for the breakfast to arrive. With a four seat complex all to myself I decided to spread out. Papers strewn on one seat, the computer on the table ready to start watching a DVD.

But that avenue of pleasure was soon closed down when the headphone socket only let me listen for 10 minutes before cutting out completely.

With breakfast taken, I decided to tuck into the papers. The French contingent were going on about how Sgt Major Sarko was going to lead his boys into glorious victory. They were going to get 400, if not more, seats in the National Assembly. It wasn't going to be a "vague bleue", it would be a tsunami.

A power crazed president would have the political muscle to wreak havoc on all strata of French society. It's not right that a megalomaniac should have so much power, seemed to be the Socialist war cry. Well yes.

At the mouth of the tunnel the train eased to a halt. When this happens I know trouble is afoot. The announcement came over that we'd have to wait for 45 or so minutes because a train had broken down in the tunnel.

If you are going to be delayed, I was at least in a first class place. We reached London at 12.15pm, 75 minutes late and no chance of compensation because the delay was not Eurostar's fault.

This reminded me of the French Tennis Federation on the first day of Roland Garros when rain washed out six hours of play and they didn't give people their money back.

You can always skirt around these things on a technicality but it's just not good PR. If everyone was given a single ticket, then they'd all be in a much better mood. Ultimately not everyone's going to be using them. And even if they do, they have to buy a return, so the company would, I assume, make something out of it.

But I'm not a great sage of market economics. So I guess the marketing gurus at Eurostar have got their finger on the pulse. But it did prick my curiosity which was alive and kicking because my mind hadn't been sucked into the X Men 3 The Final Barrage of Pyrotechnics and Glib One Liners.

Maybe there's a moral there, professor.

So the new computer is being looked at in Wandsworth. The old computer, which is going to my partner, is being looked at in Tooting Bec. I, on the return journey on Tuesday morning, had nothing to look at save the papers.

And, even at 5.45am, it's juicy stuff. The tsunami didn't happen. The Sgt Major's party only got 323 seats out of 577. Only 323. Wah Wah. This is a crisis. But actually it's still a sexy majority.

An elegantly written piece on the front page of Le Monde suggests that the French people had injected balance into the political landscape. Or as François Hollande, the leader of the French Socialist party put it - elections are about the electors, not the predictions of opinion polls.

Well said that man. But those same polls did say the Socialists would be wiped out in the presidential elections. But nevertheless you can tell he went to one of France's top finishing schools for the political wannabes.

And maybe that's the problem. I've always thought that too many people from the same milieu actually leads to stagnation in any organisation. It's rare the boss who says: "You're not one of us because you're one of us."

So the Socialists lose again but they say they're chirpy because they didn't lose as cataclysmically as expected. The centre right win again but they're a bit sombre because they didn't obliterate the opposition. These reactions seem to epitomise what's wrong with the entire political establishment. Graceless. Almost conspiratorially disconnected.

There are real lives out here in the firmanent and party heads are sticking their tongues out at each other like children.

By electing 107 among the 577 MPs, France has risen from 86th to 58th in the list of countries with the most women in parliament. Still a long way to go and more needs to be done because at the moment it all seems like phallocentric posturing. Boys and their toys. Get a grip lads.

The UMP are fretting because they didn't break the 400 barrier. A tally that has somehow been imbued with magical properties.

But I detect some fragility here. Their majority is still very decent but it seems that they'd all prepared for the 400 plus seats line of justification once the flak starts flying over the pace and extent of reform.

If the changes are so fundamentally good, then there won't be much criticism because so many will benefit. But I get the feeling that the rich will get richer out of this deal and the poor will be marginalised.

And so maybe the careless talk just before the second round of a rise in value added tax to 24.5 per cent made many people realise that money has to come from somewhere to fund those income tax cuts which wooed so many to the Sgt Major's banner.

So while the UMP simpers after winning, Ségolène Royal and Hollande have gone their separate ways in the domestic sense. They are no longer the Bill and Hillary Clinton of French politics. Thirty years and four children after meeting at France's top school for political wannabes, he's moved out.

No wonder the Socialists are in such disarray, if these two can't get it right - the leader of the party and the presidential candidate - no surprises that the party couldn't prosper. Hollande says he's going to step down as party leader next year.

And she, a failed presidential contender, want's to take over as party supremo. It's like putting Dr Mengele in charge of the hospital children's ward.

In the prelude to the presidential election, Royal was trying to reach out to the centrist François Bayrou. Hollande didn't want to have anything to do with him. There was also a catchphrase which ran TSS - Tout Sauf Sarkozy - Anyone but Sarkozy.

The Socialist grassroots, if they really want to give themselves a chance of flourishing into a viable movement, should resurrect the TSS slogan and simply insert Ségolène.