Image by Feuillu via FlickrIn the early 1960s in the U.K., the right wing, the Conservative Party, were in power under the leadership of Harold MacMillan, nicknamed Supermac, famed for informing the British people that they had never had it so good. The left wing, the Labour Party, were torn apart by internal strife and provided no effective opposition. Everything seemed to be going MacMillan's way, and then, in times of growing discontent with the economy, a sex scandal hit the news. A cabinet minister, suspected of extra marital relations with a young woman who was also having the same sort of relations with an official at the Russian Embassy, denied to the House of Commons that this had taken place. As more details became available, he was forced to apologise to the House for lying to it...the one unpardonable crime that a minister could then commit...and was obliged to resign.
The establishment fell over itself in revenge on the minor actors in the drama, two somewhat lively young ladies and a society osteopath who acted as the go between. So virulent was the reaction of the authorities that the latter, Stephen Ward, committed suicide during his trial.
But the incident, almost banal in itself, marked a change of public attitude...the people at large lost any confidence in the establishment. Whatever sort of people were running the country? Supermac was no longer trusted...satirical programmes found a ready audience...Britain was ready for change and the Labour Party managed to pull itself together under Harold Wilson to take advantage of the moment.
Let us move forward to 2009 and to France. Sarkozy is well in the driving seat with no effective opposition. The left wing, the PS, is in disarray, its' leaders quarrelling over the disposition of the carcass of the party. What can go wrong for Sarkozy?
Mitterand. Frederic Mitterand, that's what could go wrong for Sarkozy.
Mitterand finds himself at the centre of controversy about his self proclaimed sexual proclivities and he, with the French establishment solidly behind him, is determined to brazen it out. Those who have attacked him have come under heavy fire for being everything from homophobes to racists via holier than thou...the sanctity of the private lives of politicans has been invoked, the media swinging into line with headlines screaming that 67 per cent of the French don't consider that Mitterand should resign while heavyweight pundits roar into action to attack his detractors. But the public don't appear to be impressed. The poll, taken for Canal+, I think, had only 1005 participants and the comment columns in the press don't accord with its' findings.
However, the interesting point is that Mitterand himself appears almost secondary. The controversy has brought into question everything about the way things are run in France....people are beginning to get indignant. Whatever sort of people are running the country?
Hard times always bring discontent, and times are certainly harder than they have been for years, but normally the French are supine...mostly because they know all too well what putting your head above the parapet brings you...victimisation. However, some things cannot be borne and that such a man can be made a government minister has roused a considerable sight more than discontent - it has roused disgust. Allied to the incredible stupidity of trying to appoint a 24 year old unsuccessful law student as head of a billion euro public enterprise and the massive waste of public money on the Clearstream trial, to settle the scores between rival politicans, the issue has brought people out of their trenches. People have had enough of Paris centred views, divorced from the reality of life in the country as a whole. People want an end to the old cry of
'Nous sommes pour rien' - we count for nothing.
Nothing happens very fast when a nation changes course, but change does happen and France needs change very badly.