Magazine article The Spectator

One Smoke-Bomb, but No Snogging

Magazine article The Spectator

One Smoke-Bomb, but No Snogging

Article excerpt


THE platter of squishy regional cheeses was just being unveiled by a team of chefs in starched white hats, and a decent claret decanted by the waiters, when the smokebomb - the disagreeable tribute of some National Front supporters -- landed at the entrance of the Socialist party's celebration on the Left Bank.

Election parties - the odd ill-wisher's missile notwithstanding - are extremely well-planned affairs in Paris, bearing more resemblance to a well-heeled family wedding than a bacchanal. Small ladies in small pastel suits proffered canapes. The kissing was perfectly controlled to avoid collisions with lipstick and the ubiquitous cigarettes. Professors and lawyers stood round television screens looking pleased with themselves.

The disruption turned out to be a blessing in disguise, since it allowed the crowds of young unaccredited Socialists gathered like latter-day sansculottes outside the gates of the borrowed palace in the Boulevard Saint-Germain to break through the security cordons and bring the staid evening to life. Coursing into the fountained gardens, the revellers climbed into the trees intoning their anti-Le Pen chant, `We are all the children of immigrants,' and, `Down with Le Pen.'

This seemed a touch ungrateful, given that it was the National Front which had split the right-wing vote and let the Socialists in to start with. But this was the night of uplifting nonsense and the suspension of disbelief. The people had chosen cohabitation. The Socialists had a whole night in which to pretend that they had chosen revolution.

Outside, the streets of the Left Bank echoed to the strains of the `Internationale' and `La Jeune Garde'. Red flags were attached to lampposts and bicycles and tied round the necks of two pekinese to the appreciative roars of the refuse men. The mood was thoroughly juvenile. Car horns hooted while taxi-drivers swore profusely and heaped obloquy on the revellers. `First they take over Saint-Germain and before you know it we'll have Soviet conditions in France,' said one.

For the well-heeled young professionals whose homes are the pricy, tiny apartments of the Left Bank this was a glimpse of 1968 - although of course far politer in tone, and over in time for them to be back at their desks with a hangover by Monday morning. `No more austerity,' sang a group of drunken Socialist supporters in the Cafe Flore, toasting the victory with triple armagnacs to emphasise the point. `Socialism is alive,' chorused the students on the Pont Michel. `Salut Tony Blair!'

Someone once characterised modern France as `un roi elu, deux milles fonctionnaires et le reste - c'est du cinema'. Election night offered cinema of Oscarwinning quality. It seemed incredible that a man as mild-mannered and with a message as mixed, not to say mixed-up, as Lionel Jospin could be the cause of such fervour. This is the man who took to the hustings with the rallying cry, `We will try to make as few mistakes as possible.'

Even at the Socialists' headquarters people seemed to be having difficulty agreeing about what was so marvellous about M. Jospin's victory. `He'll save us from the chains of the convergence criteria and the German diktat,' said one man. `But he's committed to keep France at the centre of the European project,' said another. They nodded vigorously at this contradiction, like Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

M. Jospin appeared on television from his Toulouse constituency -- white fluffy hair, strong white teeth, white face and big ears. He looked like a large and rather serious rabbit. `C'est bien,' muttered my neighbour, `mais ce n'est pas Tony Blair.' It certainly wasn't. M. Jospin is one of those men who looks uncomfortable when an emotional state is expected of him, and gave a victory speech which managed to be dull and vague at the same time about the need for `new conditions in France' and `pluralism of the Left'. …

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