Follow that rabbit, Monsieur Sarkozy!

Despite all the gloom, there’s still humour to be found in the WikiLeaks revelations.

As the WikiLeaks storm continues, much focus is on the negative aspects of such a colossal breach of security. Secret cables revealing human rights abuses or the possibility of violence in North Korea (to give two examples) reinforce the narrative that the whole world is a dreadful place teetering on the brink of chaos.

Why can't we just, for once, enjoy the ridiculous and the absurd? Thanks to the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy – subject of a number of US embassy cables – we can. The revelations range from the mundane (the Saudis thought he was badly mannered) to the sinister (he apparently was an authoritarian who struck fear into his own advisers). One cable, however, that stood out above all the others was the despatch that featured this passage:

Sarkozy was clearly happy – and proud – to be in the company of his young son [Louis] and seemed tickled to be able to introduce him to "the ambassador of the United States". Louis appeared at the threshold with a small dog at his feet and a large rabbit in his arms. To shake hands with the ambassador, Louis put down the rabbit – and the dog started chasing the rabbit through Sarkozy's office, which led to the unforgettable sight of Sarkozy, bent over, chasing the dog through the anteroom to his office as the dog chased the rabbit.

Is that not the most ludicrously amusing image? You can practically hear the music of Benny Hill accompanying such a fiasco. "Allons-y, lapin!"

Photo: Getty
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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.