France is in a mess. But in hesitating to embrace the new certainties of neo-liberalism the French may have a point. The recent triumphalism of the Anglo-Saxon world is misplaced, and in Britain it may now be giving way to a less defensive/assertive stanceby George Walden / October 20, 1997 / Leave a comment
It is said that when Lady Thatcher heard that the former governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, was planning to buy a house in the Lot, she was most disapproving. Was it true, she is said to have asked one of his friends, that Patten was buying a house in the south of France? “Oh come on, Margaret,” the friend replied, “It’s not so unusual. After all Peter Lilley’s got a house in France.” “Ah yes,” said Lady Thatcher, “But that’s in the north.” (Lilley, right-winger and Eurosceptic, indeed has a house in Normandy.)
Normandy is acceptable because it is close to home, exhibits Tudoresque beams, and because many of the best Englishmen have been Normans. The south, besides being more distant, is peopled by the kind of heliotropic sybarites who enjoy its illicit douceurs. This worm’s eye view of the world, opening on to vast plains of ignorance, tells us much about Conserva-tive attitudes to Europe. Intelligent and energetic as she was, it is doubtful whether our former prime minister knew anything of our closest neighbour beyond the Faubourg St Honor?, residence of the British ambassador and the French president, preferring to spend such leisure as she permitted herself in the clockwork countryside of Switzerland, where even the cow-bells ring on time. When it came to France, in the best traditions of the trade union leaders whose parochial myopia she so rightly deplored, she did not want to know.
Another example. Doesn’t it say something special about Britain, Michael Portillo said recently, that the son of an immigrant such as himself could get into the cabinet? Well, it doesn’t actually. What it says is that Portillo looks at the world through the same spectacles as his heroine. In a country he could reach by train faster than his former constituency, Enfield, on a bad traffic day, he could have found people with names as outlandish as his own in more distinguished positions: Pierre B?r?govoy (prime minister), Michel Poniatowski (interior minister). A Ukrainian and a Pole, both sons of immigrants, as proud to be French as Portillo is to be British, but who did not go on about it. I do not wish to cavil-we all inhabit vast plains of ignorance-but it does seem time that we thought about France in larger terms than we are used to.
To listen to debates in parliament, or to read the British…