Thursday, May 03, 2007

Royal coverage

I'm hoping that Ségolène Royal wins in the French presidential election. I confess that I know little about her, but two things encourage my support. Firstly what I know about Sarkozy makes me feel extremely concerned about another rightwing leader getting into power. I haven't forgotten his description of the youth in les banlieues as 'scum'. Secondly, Blair wants him to win. This tells you everything you need to know really. A Labour Prime Minister wants Sarkozy to win -- no doubt as 'one of us' -- in preference to the Socialist Party candidate.

The point of this rant is simply to mark the observation that we know very little about French politics here in the UK. A very good article by Peter Wilby in the Grauniad on Monday discussed the poor coverage of the French election in the UK press. Wilby's main point is that because UK journalists are so ignorant about France, they find it difficult to report the election, not least because they can't find ways to present the candidates in familar formula stories based on the personality politics that are their daily diet. Wilby reports that the Sunday Express attempted to portray the contest as 'Madame Blair' vs 'Monsieur Maggie', which is not only silly, but completely wrong. Wilby also scores a bullseye with his comment that the 'free market liberals' who masquerade as political commentators in the UK can't understand how the French economy keeps going. "It must be unsustainable", they cry, trying to ignore the fact that decent public transport and a properly-funded health service are things that voters might want. (I'm not suggesting that there aren't problems with high unemployment in France, especially youth unemployment, but the UK critics are simply incapable of understanding what the arguments are.)

As a result of this, the coverage has been limited in the UK press, especially in the tabloids. Without juicy stories about sexual shenanigans and whether the candidates have taken drugs, nobody can think of an angle. Ironically, the Grauniad on Wednesday did raise the question of what had happened to Sarkozy's wife, who has not been seen during the campaign. I also noticed some coverage of
Ségolène Royal which simply stated that she is not married to her longtime partner François Hollande, but that the couple have brought up four children, one of whom, 21 year-old Thomas is helping his mother in her campaign. Given that Labour has suffered from the rather wimpish performance of some of its 'Blair babes' and that Blair has treated some of the more experienced women in the party pretty badly, I'm surprised that there isn't much more interest in Ms Royal in the UK (and indeed in Angela Merkel, even if she is a Christian Democrat). Where is our next female socialist leader?

As a postscript, it was intriguing to see that 23 million are reported to have watched the 2 hour presidential debate on French TV. I wonder when a UK politician ever got an audience of 23 million?

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