Cameron is Sarkozy's friend in need

The Prime Minister really doesn't want a Socialist to win in France and he's not afraid to show it.

It is neither a surprise nor a secret that David Cameron wants Nicolas Sarkozy to win France's presidential election in April.

It isn't a surprise because Sarko, for all that the two men have had their differences, is a fellow leader of the centre-right and has been a useful partner in defence and security cooperation. They worked together in the campaign against Colonel Gaddafi in Libya. That kind of military partnership counts for a lot in international diplomacy - enough, at least to compensate for a bunch of snide comments made about each other on the periphery of European summits.

Besides, Sarkozy's closest rival, Francois Hollande is a Socialist, running on an anti-austerity, anti-Big Finance ticket whose victory would threaten to tilt the balance of European power leftward. Naturally, Cameron doesn't like the idea of that.

The UK prime minister's preferences are no secret because he shared them in an interview with Le Figaro, a conservative French newspaper, when on a visit to Paris last week.

Cameron lavished praise on the incumbent President and offered his unambiguous support. This has raised a few eyebrows. It is not considered good form or shrewd diplomacy to explicitly endorse one side in a foreign election, given that the other guy might win. John Major's relations with Bill Clinton got off to a notoriously rocky start because the British prime minister had supported George Bush Snr, the defeated Republican candidate.

Meanwhile, Hollande is visiting London next week, mainly to woo the capital's large French ex-pat community. He is making time to see Ed Miliband, but has not yet had an invitation to Number 10. A spokesman says the PM as "no plans" to meet the man who could be President. I doubt Hollande is much bothered by the omission. There is no huge electoral advantage to being seen hobnobbing with the Tory leader, although perhaps meeting foreign leaders helps a challenger look Presidential.

For that reason, Sarkozy would probably rather keep Cameron all to himself. His campaign is relying heavily on the claim to be a heavyweight international figure, experienced enough to grapple with the epic crises of the times. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is practically on secondment to the Sarko campaign to reinforce that message.

There is, it must be said, no suggestion that the French President asked his British counterpart to snub Hollande and no indication Cameron would oblige if asked. Maybe their diaries just didn't work out. One conversation that, I'm told, did take place in Paris between Sarkozy's and entourage and Cameron's on the subject of the forthcoming election consisted of the French side asking the Tories for advice on how to stage a come-back when languishing in the polls, citing the example of John Major's 1992 victory. My source doesn't reveal the answer, but I imagine it was "run against Neil Kinnock."

Rafael Behr is political columnist at the Guardian and former political editor of the New Statesman

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Commons Confidential: Dave's picnic with Dacre

Revenge is a dish best served cold from a wicker hamper.

Sulking David Cameron can’t forgive the Daily Mail editor, Paul Dacre, for his role in his downfall. The unrelenting hostility of the self-appointed voice of Middle England to the Remain cause felt pivotal to the defeat. So, what a glorious coincidence it was that they found themselves picnicking a couple of motors apart before England beat Scotland at Twickenham. My snout recalled Cameron studiously peering in the opposite direction. On Dacre’s face was the smile of an assassin. Revenge is a dish best served cold from a wicker hamper.

The good news is that since Jeremy Corbyn let Theresa May off the Budget hook at Prime Minister’s Questions, most of his MPs no longer hate him. The bad news is that many now openly express their pity. It is whispered that Corbyn’s office made it clear that he didn’t wish to sit next to Tony Blair at the unveiling of the Iraq and Afghanistan war memorial in London. His desire for distance was probably reciprocated, as Comrade Corbyn wanted Brigadier Blair to be charged with war crimes. Fighting old battles is easier than beating the Tories.

Brexit is a ticket to travel. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority is lifting its three-trip cap on funded journeys to Europe for MPs. The idea of paying for as many cross-Channel visits as a politician can enjoy reminds me of Denis MacShane. Under the old limits, he ended up in the clink for fiddling accounts to fund his Continental missionary work. If the new rule was applied retrospectively, perhaps the former Labour minister should be entitled to get his seat back and compensation?

The word in Ukip is that Paul Nuttall, OBE VC KG – the ridiculed former Premier League professional footballer and England 1966 World Cup winner – has cold feet after his Stoke mauling about standing in a by-election in Leigh (assuming that Andy Burnham is elected mayor of Greater Manchester in May). The electorate already knows his Walter Mitty act too well.

A senior Labour MP, who demanded anonymity, revealed that she had received a letter after Leicester’s Keith Vaz paid men to entertain him. Vaz had posed as Jim the washing machine man. Why, asked the complainant, wasn’t this second job listed in the register of members’ interests? She’s avoiding writing a reply.

Years ago, this column unearthed and ridiculed the early journalism of George Osborne, who must be the least qualified newspaper editor in history. The cabinet lackey Ben “Selwyn” Gummer’s feeble intervention in the Osborne debate has put him on our radar. We are now watching him and will be reporting back. My snouts are already unearthing interesting information.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution