Magazine article The Spectator

Sarko Strikes Back

Magazine article The Spectator

Sarko Strikes Back

Article excerpt

The defeated president is ready to retake his party and wreak revenge of Francois Hollande

Nicolas Sarkozy is angry - a 'caged lion', one of his closest friends told Le Monde last week. He is angry about the state of France, the state of his party, his perceived persecution by the courts, but perhaps most of all about the fact that he isn't in the Elysee Palace to clean the mess up.

If the French were to clamour for his return, he is reported to have told a Goldman Sachs conference in London this month, he would come back 'for duty's sake'.

But Sarkozy is no Cincinnatus. He would not be treading wearily back from his plough to assume office for the good of France. He would be more like Obelix spying a wild boar.

He would smack his lips and bear down greedily. Where another might see duty or burden, Sarkozy would see only opportunity.

France is in its worst shape for more than three decades, since Francois Mitterrand nearly blew up the economy in the early 1980s trying to stimulate growth through government deficits and nationalisations. Unemployment is at 10.5 per cent and climbing. The economy is contracting. And overseeing the shambles is the suety, confidence-draining face of Francois Hollande.

Hollande has had one great moment in his 14 months in office. It was his military thrust into Mali: for a few weeks at least, he could revel in the reflected glory of France's grizzled troops. Other than that, he has been a disaster, a boring, blithering excuse for a leader, hog-tied by his obligations to the hard left of his party.

Opinion polls - the latest have him down to 26 per cent approval - suggest that he has become France's least popular president ever, as voters realise that his only strategy is to wait and hope that something will happen. That the economy will magically turn.

That French exports will remain desirable even as they become uncompetitive. That Gerard Depardieu will return from his selfimposed exile in Belgium and start paying taxes again.

In the meantime, his old foe Sarkozy is on the prowl, no longer the cowed figure who left the Elysee last spring, rejected by the electorate. A year of rest and recovery in Paris's 16th arrondissement, and he is putting his old team back together. His offices on the Rue de Miromesnil, a ten-minute walk from the presidential palace, are humming. The pollsters and speechwriters have been summoned, the parliamentarians seduced one by one in tele phone calls and over private lunches. The wealthy Parisians, the construction, telecoms and fashion magnates who have bankrolled Sarkozy's political career never went away.

They are his social life. And his wife Carla has had time to put out a new album.

For Hollande, it must feel like one of those horror films: he is hiding under the thin motel sheets, hearing scratches and bumps in the walls, knowing that any minute the maniac is going to burst in and start slashing. Sarkozy is his Freddy Krueger. And he's back.

The first step in Sarkozy's return will be reassuming control of his party, the UMP.

The French right has always loved its strong men, its men of destiny, and Sarkozy is pure political muscle. He began campaigning for the presidency even while his former mentor, Jacques Chirac, held it. Chirac feigned disgust, but he'd shown the same lack of respect to Giscard in the 1970s.

Since Sarkozy's defeat, the UMP has been split between supporters of his former prime minister, Francois Fillon, and his former budget minister, Jean-Francois Cope. …

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