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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After Strictly, I'd love to see Ed Balls start a new political party

My week, from babbling at Michael Gove to chatting Botox with Ed Balls and a trip to Stroke City.

If you want to see yourself as others see you, write a weekly column in a national newspaper, then steel yourself to read “below the line”. Under my last offering I read the following comment: “Don’t be angry, feel pity. Her father was a member of the European Parliament. Her older brother has been a member of parliament, a cabinet minister, a secretary of state, a historian, a mayor of London. Her younger brother is a member of parliament and minister for universities and science. She has a column in the Daily Mail. Can you imagine how she feels deep inside?” Before I slammed my laptop shut – the truth always hurts – my eye fell on this. “When is Rachel going to pose for Playboy seniors’ edition?” Who knew that Playboy did a seniors’ edition? This is the best compliment I’ve had all year!

 

Three parts of Michael Gove

Part one Bumped into Michael Gove the other day for the first time since I called him a “political psychopath” and “Westminster suicide bomber” in print. We had one of those classic English non-conversations. I babbled. Gove segued into an anecdote about waiting for a London train at Castle Cary in his trusty Boden navy jacket and being accosted by Johnnie Boden wearing the exact same one. I’m afraid that’s the punchline! Part two I’ve just had a courtesy call from the Cheltenham Literature Festival to inform me that Gove has been parachuted into my event. I’ve been booked in since June, and the panel is on modern manners. De mortuis nil nisi bonum, of course, but I do lie in bed imagining the questions I hope I might be asked at the Q&A session afterwards. Part three There has been what we might call a serious “infarction” of books about Brexit, serialised passim. I never thought I would write these words, but I’m feeling sorry for the chap. Gove gets such a pasting in the diaries of Sir Craig Oliver.

Still, I suppose Michael can have his own say, because he’s returning to the Times this week as a columnist. Part of me hopes he’ll “do a Sarah Vine”, as it’s known in the trade (ie, write a column spiced with intimate revelations). But I am braced for policy wonkery rather than the petty score-settling and invasions of his own family privacy that would be so much more entertaining.

 

I capture the castle

I’ve been at an event on foreign affairs called the Mount Stewart Conversations, co-hosted by BBC Northern Ireland and the National Trust. Before my departure for Belfast, I mentioned that I was going to the province to the much “misunderestimated” Jemima Goldsmith, the producer, and writer of this parish. I didn’t drop either the name of the house or the fact that Castlereagh, a former foreign secretary, used to live there, and that the desk that the Congress of Vienna was signed on is in the house, as I assumed in my snooty way that Ms Goldsmith wouldn’t have heard of either. “Oh, we used to have a house in Northern Ireland, Mount Stewart,” she said, when I said I was going there. “It used to belong to Mum.” That told me.

Anyway, it was a wonderful weekend, full of foreign policy and academic rock stars too numerous to mention. Plus, at the Stormont Hotel, the staff served porridge with double cream and Bushmills whiskey for breakfast; and the gardens at Mount Stewart were stupendous. A top performer was Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s former chief of staff, who runs his own conflict resolution charity. Powell negotiated the Good Friday Agreement and also has a very natty line in weekend casual wear. Jeremy Corbyn has said he wants a minister for peace, as well as party unity. Surely “Curly” Powell – a prince of peace if ever there was one – must be shoo-in for this gig.

PS: I was told that Derry/Londonderry is now known as “Stroke City”. I imagined stricken residents all being rushed to Casualty, before I worked it out.

 

On board with Balls

Isn’t Ed Balls bliss? From originating Twitter’s Ed Balls Day to becoming Strictly Come Dancing’s Ed Balls, he is adding hugely to the gaiety of the nation. I did the ITV show The Agenda with Tom Bradby this week, and as a fellow guest Balls was a non-stop stream of campery, charleston steps, Strictly gossip and girly questions about whether he should have a spray tan (no!), or Botox under his armpits to staunch the sweat (also no! If you block the armpits, it will only appear somewhere else!).

He is clever, fluent, kind, built like a s*** outhouse, and nice. I don’t care that his waltz looked as if his partner, Katya, was trying to move a double-doored Sub-Zero American fridge across a shiny floor. After Strictly I’d like to see him start a new party for all the socially liberal, fiscally conservative, pro-European millions of us who have been disenfranchised by Brexit and the Corbynisation of the Labour Party. In fact, I said this on air. If he doesn’t organise it, I will, and he sort of promised to be on board!

 

A shot in the dark

I was trying to think of something that would irritate New Statesman readers to end with. How about this: my husband is shooting every weekend between now and 2017. This weekend we are in Drynachan, the seat of Clan Campbell and the Thanes of Cawdor. I have been fielding calls from our host, a type-A American financier, about the transportation of shotguns on BA flights to Inverness – even though I don’t shoot and can’t stand the sport.

I was overheard droning on by Adrian Tinniswood, the author of the fashionable history of country houses The Long Weekend. He told me that the 11th Duke of Bedford kept four cars and eight chauffeurs to ferry revellers to his pile at Woburn. Guests were picked up in town by a chauffeur, accompanied by footmen. Luggage went in another car, also escorted by footmen, as it was not done to travel with your suitcase.

It’s beyond Downton! I must remember to tell mine host how real toffs do it. He might send a plane just for the guns.

Rachel Johnson is a columnist for the Mail on Sunday

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories