Can Sarkozy and Brown kiss and make up?

Will Sarkozy be forgiven for his assaults on "Anglo-Saxon" capitalism?

With Anglo-French relations at their lowest ebb since Jacques Chirac declared that Britain had the worst food in the world (after Finland), Nicolas Sarkozy and Gordon Brown have co-authored a piece in today's Wall Street Journal in an attempt to repair the entente cordiale.

The latest quarrel began, you may remember, after Sarkozy launched a polemical assault on the "unconstrained Anglo-Saxon market model". With unrestrained glee, he declared that the appointment of the Frenchman Michel Barnier as the EU's financial regulation chief promised "victory" for the "European model".

Do you know what it means for me to see for the first time in 50 years a French European commissioner in charge of the internal market, including financial services, including the City [of London]?

I want the world to see the victory of the European model, which has nothing to do with the excesses of financial capitalism.

It will stand as one of the ironies of history that the man who came to power promising to do for France what Thatcher did for Britain has transformed himself into one of the most vociferous critics of Anglo-Saxon capitalism. But like his Gaullist predecessors, he has found the rhetorical appeal of the dirigiste tradition too heady to resist.

Perhaps unexpectedly, today's article isn't the bland or incoherent work it might have been. The solid social-democratic belief that the market is a good servant but a bad master underlines their appeal for a "new compact" between global banks and "the society they serve". And both are right to call for European states to introduce a one-off tax on bank bonuses.

The pair will meet on the fringes of the latest EU summit, with one diplomat commenting: "I think it'll be fine. In two years, you'll be wondering what the fuss was about."

If you accept Harold Wilson's dictum that "a week is a long time in politics", then two years is a rather long time for both sides to forgive and forget. Sarkozy and Brown would do well to begin with a new compact between themselves before turning to casino capitalism.

 

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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I dined behind the Houses of Parliament in my sexually connected foursome

My wife and I would sometimes dine out with another couple. We did not always check the significance of the date. 

I am self-employed and find that working from home, setting your own schedule, the days generally blur into each other, with weekends holding no significance, and public holidays, when those who are employed in factories, offices or shops get time off, meaning nothing. I am often surprised to go out and find the streets empty of traffic because it is some national day of observance, such as Christmas, that I wasn’t aware of. I find myself puzzled as to why the shops are suddenly full of Easter eggs or pancake batter.

Growing up in a Communist household, we had a distinct dislike for this kind of manufactured marketing opportunity anyway. I remember the time my mother tried to make me feel guilty because I’d done nothing for her on Mother’s Day and I pointed out that it was she who had told me that Mother’s Day was a cynical creation of the greetings card monopolies and the floral industrial complex.

Valentine’s Day is one of those I never see coming. It’s the one day of the year when even the worst restaurants are completely booked out by couples attempting to enjoy a romantic evening. Even those old-fashioned cafés you’ll find still lurking behind railway stations and serving spaghetti with bread and butter will tell you there’s a waiting list if you leave it late to reserve a table.

In the late 1980s my wife and I would sometimes dine out with another couple, he a writer and she a TV producer. One particular place we liked was a restaurant attached to a 1930s block of flats, near the Houses of Parliament, where the endless corridors were lined with blank doors, behind which you sensed awful things happened. The steel dining room dotted with potted palm trees overlooked a swimming pool, and this seemed terribly sophisticated to us even if it meant all your overpriced food had a vague taste of chlorine.

The four of us booked to eat there on 14 February, not realising the significance of the date. We found at every other table there was a single couple, either staring adoringly into each other’s eyes or squabbling.

As we sat down I noticed we were getting strange looks from our fellow diners. Some were sort of knowing, prompting smiles and winks; others seemed more outraged. The staff, too, were either simpering or frosty. After a while we realised what was going on: it was Valentine’s Day! All the other customers had assumed that we were a sexually connected foursome who had decided to celebrate our innovative relationship by having dinner together on this special date.

For the four of us, the smirking attention set up a strange dynamic: after that night it always felt like we were saying something seedy to each other. “Do you want to get together on Sunday?” I’d say to one of them on the phone, and then find myself blushing. “I’ll see if we can fit it in,” they’d reply, and we would both giggle nervously.

Things became increasingly awkward between us, until in the end we stopped seeing them completely. 

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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