Sarkozy sets out his stall

The French president will tack right to head off the threat of Marine Le Pen.

Nicolas Sarkozy is due to announce officially that he will run for the French presidency again next week. But in an interview today with the right-leaning newspaper Le Figaro he sets out the main themes of his campaign. As Alexandre Lemarié argues in Le Monde, those themes are designed to appeal to voters tempted by the Front National's Marine Le Pen, who could threaten Sarkozy's participation in the second and decisive round of the presidential election in May.

Here is some of what he said.

Work and responsibility

  • "After five years as president, I am more convinced than ever that work must be rewarded. It's not a question simply of saying that you have to work to succeed - that's obvious - but that work is a value in itself, necessary to the accomplishment of the individual and to social cohesion."
  • "I would say the same about responsibility. It is what gives freedom its meaning. One is free to the extent that one is responsible - to oneself and to others. So I see responsibility as the indispensible accompaniment to freedom. Freedom without constraint or limit, freedom as the principle of a society in which everything is permitted and in which one doesn't have to account for oneself, is not a value I identify with."

The French economy and competitiveness

  • "What is most harmful in our system is its authoritarian character, its disconnection from the day-to-day running of businesses."
  • "If, in a given business, the employees and the boss agree on the terms of employment, salaries and flexibility, then their agreement should be authorised by law and take precedence over invididual contracts. This is the choice we've made with [Prime Minister] François Fillon, and it's what has allowed the Germans to succeed to a great extent in their struggle against unemployment. This new flexibility will benefit the French economy as well as employees, who will benefit from an increase in competitiveness."

Gay marriage

  • "I'm not in favour [of gay marriage]. In 2007, I proposed civil partnerships. We didn't bring them in because we realised that it was unconstitutional to reserve such partnerships for homosexuals alone. The notion of a civil partnership threatens the institution of marriage ... In these troubled times, I don't think it is wise to sully the image of this essential social institution [marriage].

National identity

  • "I say to the French people: be proud of your country; we have values; we are like no other people; we must continue to welcome foreigners, but those whom we welcome must love our country. It's for those who arrive here to assimilate our rules - it's not for republican principles to adapt to them. We have been able to integrate earlier waves of migration into the republican melting-pot because the new arrivals had cultural and religious attachments close to ours. More recent immigration is different."
  • "France has made considerable efforts to create places of worship in order that everyone feels that their differences are being acknowledged. But equally, limits have to be fixed. In 2008, I explained that the burqa or the niqab should be banned. I also asked that prayers in the street be curtailed, because, in a secular state, other citizens shouldn't have to see that."
  • "France has Christian, or Judeo-Christian, roots. That is a historical reality that it would be absurd to deny! Look at the churches and cathedrals that cover our country. France was born out of the meeting between the will of kings and that oif the Church. Joan of Arc, the 600th anniversary of whose birth we've just celebrated, was born at the crossroads of that double will. Saying that doesn't imply that one belongs to a church, nor that one is any less committed to the values of the Republic or the principles of secularism. Let's not cut France off from part of its history."

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

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The Women's March against Trump matters – but only if we keep fighting

We won’t win the battle for progressive ideas if we don’t battle in the first place.

Arron Banks, UKIP-funder, Brexit cheerleader and Gibraltar-based insurance salesman, took time out from Trump's inauguration to tweet me about my role in tomorrow's Women’s March Conservative values are in the ascendancy worldwide. Thankfully your values are finished. . . good”.

Just what about the idea of women and men marching for human rights causes such ill will? The sense it is somehow cheeky to say we will champion equality whoever is in office in America or around the world. After all, if progressives like me have lost the battle of ideas, what difference does it make whether we are marching, holding meetings or just moaning on the internet?

The only anti-democratic perspective is to argue that when someone has lost the argument they have to stop making one. When political parties lose elections they reflect, they listen, they learn but if they stand for something, they don’t disband. The same is true, now, for the broader context. We should not dismiss the necessity to learn, to listen, to reflect on the rise of Trump – or indeed reflect on the rise of the right in the UK  but reject the idea that we have to take a vow of silence if we want to win power again.

To march is not to ignore the challenges progressives face. It is to start to ask what are we prepared to do about it.

Historically, conservatives have had no such qualms about regrouping and remaining steadfast in the confidence they have something worth saying. In contrast, the left has always been good at absolving itself of the need to renew.

We spend our time seeking the perfect candidates, the perfect policy, the perfect campaign, as a precondition for action. It justifies doing nothing except sitting on the sidelines bemoaning the state of society.

We also seem to think that changing the world should be easier than reality suggests. The backlash we are now seeing against progressive policies was inevitable once we appeared to take these gains for granted and became arrogant and exclusive about the inevitability of our worldview. Our values demand the rebalancing of power, whether economic, social or cultural, and that means challenging those who currently have it. We may believe that a more equal world is one in which more will thrive, but that doesn’t mean those with entrenched privilege will give up their favoured status without a fight or that the public should express perpetual gratitude for our efforts via the ballot box either.  

Amongst the conferences, tweets and general rumblings there seem three schools of thought about what to do next. The first is Marxist  as in Groucho revisionism: to rise again we must water down our principles to accommodate where we believe the centre ground of politics to now be. Tone down our ideals in the hope that by such acquiescence we can eventually win back public support for our brand – if not our purpose. The very essence of a hollow victory.

The second is to stick to our guns and stick our heads in the sand, believing that eventually, when World War Three breaks out, the public will come grovelling back to us. To luxuriate in an unwillingness to see we are losing not just elected offices but the fight for our shared future.

But what if there really was a third way? It's not going to be easy, and it requires more than a hashtag or funny t-shirt. It’s about picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves down and starting to renew our call to arms in a way that makes sense for the modern world.

For the avoidance of doubt, if we march tomorrow and then go home satisfied we have made our point then we may as well not have marched at all. But if we march and continue to organise out of the networks we make, well, then that’s worth a Saturday in the cold. After all, we won’t win the battle of ideas, if we don’t battle.

We do have to change the way we work. We do have to have the courage not to live in our echo chambers alone. To go with respect and humility to debate and discuss the future of our communities and of our country.

And we have to come together to show there is a willingness not to ask a few brave souls to do that on their own. Not just at election times, but every day and in every corner of Britain, no matter how difficult it may feel.

Saturday is one part of that process of finding others willing not just to walk a mile with a placard, but to put in the hard yards to win the argument again for progressive values and vision. Maybe no one will show up. Maybe not many will keep going. But whilst there are folk with faith in each other, and in that alternative future, they’ll find a friend in me ready to work with them and will them on  and then Mr Banks really should be worried.