Economic Bloodbath Looms for France
A red rose revolution? François Hollande may find it hard to put his plans into practice Photo: Rex Features
When the last French socialist president, François Mitterrand, was preparing for victory, it was my job as a diplomat to accompany him on a trip to London to call on Jim Callaghan. En route from the airport to No 10, I arranged for him to drop in to Kew Gardens. A mistake. He was so enthralled I couldn’t get him out, and we turned up a trifle late for the prime minister.
The point of the story is French insularity. Mitterrand was a passionate arboriculturalist, yet he knew nothing of the glories of Kew. In France, insularity can go along with a romantic nationalism, on Left and Right, and with François Hollande’s victory we are seeing more of that today.
“A policy of national conceit” was how my ambassador in Paris, Sir Nicholas Henderson, characterised French attitudes in the 1970s, and in different conditions that same overweening self-regard is there once again. Socialism is about doctrine, and the economic doctrines of the new president combine two ingredients dear to the heart of the French Left for centuries: nationalism and the revolutionary spirit.
Talk of revolution in the case of the inoffensive-looking Mr Hollande may seem laughable, but look at what he has been saying. In today’s world, revolution doesn’t mean Napoleon’s armies pressing their gifts of liberté, égalité and fraternité on their neighbours by invading their countries. It means blaming the Anglo-Saxon economic model for bringing about a global recession, and challenging Germany’s hegemony in Europe on policies to solve it.