Tuesday, 18 March 2008

The pink wave

Crossing the dark car park that separates the town centre from my hotel, I frowned at the music that made windows and car lights jump almost as far back as the main street. It was the first antisocial behaviour (besides the dog dirt and the impatience of museum staff) in a week in Reims. And on a school night.

At the top of the park the arches of the Porte de Mars face Roman peace and stability off against the memorial to Rémois dead in two world wars. Alternating blue and orange flashing lights told me the police were there; but they weren't censuring the noisy party, rather they were protecting it, waving cars on round the roundabout past the blocked-off road.

Last Sunday, the Charles de Casanove champagne house next to my hotel had been covered with rich blue placards. It was the campaign headquarters of Renard Dutreil, the mayoral candidate of the right-wing UMP party. By Monday morning the placards were gone: Dutreil was out in the gutter and two women would fight it out at the second round of elections - one from the Parti Socialist and the other an independent right-winger.

But whose victory bash was going on just down the road? If I had realised it was the PS maybe I would have gatecrashed. I like Reims; there's a lot going on. After a week here I'd started to take its municipal entanglements to heart.

French local elections take place every seven years, so journalists' and political commentators' eyes gleam as they settle in for weeks of analysis. Back in my room the presenters were talking of "la vague rose", the pink wave spreading through town halls across the country. One or two had held on to their blue credentials but of the biggest cities only Marseille had done so. Even Toulouse, a right-wing local administration for thirty-seven years, had gone pink.

Of course, much is being made of what this swing to the left means for France. The right-wing losers claim that every town has its particuliarities and the results cannot therefore be read as a national critique of the Sarkozy government. The socialists, naturally, claim the opposite. "Sarko" and his prime minister Fillon are about to publish the much-trailed Attali report into fiscal reforms aimed at boosting enterprise and attracting capital. The French are worried: even pensioners came out and demonstrated last week. Sarkozy, himself, hasn't yet commented on the local elections.

Meanwhile a new party, MoDEM, for whom these elections were the first major test, has been severely trounced. They had set themselves up as a French "third way", able to communicate with both left and right without having to be in formal alliance with either. But it seems France isn't ready for that yet. They scared themselves when they elected the "modernising" Sarkozy and the equally modern cult of the individual that he heralded. Now they are retrenching. It isn't just the rejection of a middle way that makes France feel twenty-five years behind the times. It is also the strikes which have assailed the country in recent weeks and the sight on posters and TV screens of the heavy drawing of a fist with a rose, the logo of the Parti Socialist, that was last in common currency in the UK in 1980s student politics.

This Monday, local life was moving on. From my window I watched the mayor-exaunt and the mayor-elect with several dozen dignitaries and journalists lay a wreath to Lazare Ponticelli, the last "poilu", foreigners who had come to defend France in the Foreign Legion in the First World War. He died last week, still witnessing to the absurdity of war. Across the road, the trucks of the Easter funfair were rolling into town.

17 March 2008

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