Labour's victory bred further confusion in France, where the word "blairisme" is an insult. The perception of British failure and decay is slowly being unpickedby Tim King / June 19, 2005 / Leave a comment
The result of the British election left many French people perplexe. President Chirac told them on television that, “In Britain there are methods and social rules which would be neither accepted nor acceptable here.” In France, according to Le Monde, the word “blairisme” is an insult. Indeed, all through the campaign for the referendum on the European constitution, both “yes” and “no” camps, left and right, have been united on one thing: the direction to avoid at all costs is that taken by Blair in Britain. That vow was noisily reaffirmed the day after his election victory. No amount of money spent papering over the cracks, claims Le Figaro, “will ever bridge the gaping class divide in Britain—only a complete reworking of the entire education system will transform the oldest class-ridden society in Europe.” Agreeing with a Frenchman who has taught in Britain for ten years that Britain is a two-speed, racist society with a “catastrophic” education system, the London correspondent of Radio France said, “Very true: looking at British society through French eyes, it’s undeniably a very elitist, non-egalitarian society. Three million children live in poverty.” This shocks listeners in France (where there are only 1m such children), reinforcing their conviction that the third way leads to hell. So they are very confused when they start to hear that the British economy is fizzing, the standard of living has overtaken the French and unemployment has dropped to 4.8 per cent. People simply cannot understand—it goes counter to everything they have read in the press.
There is in the French press what Alain Frachon, senior editor on Le Monde’s weekend magazine, calls “la pensée unique, dominante.” It comes, Frachon believes, partly from the historical role of the state, partly from a certain ideological blindness on the left, which he feels is still anchored in the pre-market-economy era where most French journalists and editors have their roots. They are haunted by the fear that if they don’t actively denigrate free market opinions they will be branded “anti-progressive,” and in France this is to be cast into outer darkness. This consensus or conformity makes for a uniformity of information. In the first ten days of the referendum campaign, CSA, the media watchdog, found the “no” camp had been allowed half the airtime of the “yes.”
But very recently, almost overnight, what Fachon calls a “voodoo incantation” demonising free market Britain has changed…