It’s that man again

Ladies and gentlemen: Vladimir Vladimirovitch Le Pen.

Here she is flying a helicopter, riding a horse and steering a boat. Love her or loathe her, in terms of production values and fulfilling the communications brief, this ad is A1. If the sight of her yanking gubernatorially on a windlass doesn’t stir your patriotic inklings, then you clearly have no patriotic inklings to be stirred.


As far back as I can remember, I’ve always felt a passionate, visceral attachment to our country, and to its history. I love France. I love it from the depths of my heart and my soul: this ancient, indomitable nation, its fiery people who never give up. I am a woman. And as a woman, the restrictions on individual freedom that have spread across our country via the growth of Islamic fundamentalism feel to me like an outrageous violation. I am a mother, and like millions of parents, I worry every day about the state of the nation and the world that we are leaving to our children. I am a lawyer, and my years spent at the bar left me with a deep attachment to civil liberties and a special awareness of the situation faced by victims when crime goes unpunished. In essence, if I had to define myself, I think that I would say that I am simply, intensely, faithfully, proudly and clearly French. If anyone insults France, it is as if they were insulting me personally. Whether it’s a question of the insecurity, the violence or the poverty that afflict too many of our compatriots, I feel the suffering endured by the French people as if it were my own. The choice that you will make in the upcoming Presidential election is crucial, essential. It’s the choice of a civilisation. Either you go forward with those who have lied, failed, betrayed, who have led the people astray and set France on the wrong path, or you make the decision to put tidy up the mess that France has become. Yes. I want to put France back together, I want the French people to be able to live free in an independent France. I want the French people to be able to live in safety, in a France that is respected. I want the French people to be protected, in a prosperous France. I want the French people to be united, in a proud France. I want the French people to live well, in a sustainable France. I want the French people to be able to live out their dreams in a fair France! This is what I stand for, it’s what I’m fighting for, and it’s the project that I’ll work towards as head of state in your name, in the name of the people.

I’m not being lazy. She really does say ‘France’ that many times.

Compare and contrast with: overly-dramatic Putin presser intro.



A bomb is a bomb is a bomb?

Rusian war fotage Syria

We’ve been blathering on about the superior quality of recent Russian war footage for months, so it’s nice to see that France 2 apparently agrees with us.

RT just caught them passing off footage of Russian bombing raids as NATO film stock.

Read the background and see the video here. No wonder the Russians have been taking such pains over copyrighting their material.

You read it here first

Philippe Verdier

Since we covered Philippe Verdier’s move to RT France, it has been covered not only by RT’s English language site, but also US conservative site The Daily Caller:

France’s Top Weatherman Hired By Kremlin After Being Fired For Questioning Global Warming

France’s top weatherman has found a new gig after being fired in November for questioning global warming in his new book: he’s working for Russian state-owned media.

French news outlet Le Figaro reports Philippe Verdier is covering the United Nations climate summit in Paris for Russia Today France. Verdier has a daily news segment dedicated to covering what goes on during the U.N. climate talks.


(Though they don’t provide the first-rate analysis and super-fast translation that we do.)

Interestingly, they’re tending to portray Verdier as a climate sceptic, which he isn’t – he just objects to the UN climate science establishment and their hooplah.

Meanwhile, the French backlash has been covered by the local edition of Huffpo (appropriately, since is is pretty much the Western liberal equivalent of RT), which describes Verdier’s coverage of the COP21 summit as “free” (their quotes, not mine) and features a video of a selection of other French weather presenters doing a hatchet job on him.


Clip of Verdier speaking: “The climate summit is also a great opportunity to finish the year on a high-note, by avoiding discussions of subjects likely to get people angry: notably, unemployment, where the figures are very bad.”
Presenter: “Do you have anything to say to that?”
Laurent Bodin: “Of course.”
Presenter: “He wasn’t being climate-sceptic there. He was just raising questions. Is that not allowed?”
Catherine Laborde: “It’s all old news that. It’s just that, like, it’s old news. That’s not what matters. What matters is what happening now, with all of these people coming together, who are trying to work together to do something to save the planet.”
Laurent Romejko: “You can’t question it. Scientific monitoring has been carried out for many years now. It’s been observed…”
Catherine Laborde: “He’s way, way behind the times.”
Laurent Romejko: “And we’re not going to discuss it any more.”
Catherine Laborde: “Yeah.”
Laurent Romejko: “That’s what it seems like to me.”
Presenter: “As if they brought 150 heads of state here just to avoid talking about unemployment. The guy’s a bit pathetic.”

Question More

You may remember this guy:

Jonathan Pie



In fact, he isn’t a real reporter losing his shit on tv (though there’s a good chance that the viral content aggregation site where you originally saw the video told you that he was). In fact, he’s a comedian called Tom Walker.

After this clip went viral, he subsequently made a whole lot more on a similar theme. Russia Today was involved in some capacity, whether they actually helped produce the original skit or merely commissioned him to produce more after the first one succeeded.

We’ve covered Russia Today’s cheerfully anarchic promotion of any and all alternative (and “alternative”) viewpoints before, and this series of sketches isn’t that new, so what gives?

Well it’s suddenly become relevant because RT’s French channel just began a series of reports featuring Philippe Verdier giving his own views on the COP21 climate conference. If you’ve never heard of Verdier before (and if you’re not French then there’s no reason why you should) he used to present the weather on France 2, until he was fired for publishing a book expressing mildly sceptical views regarding the environmentalist lobby.

Philippe Verdier


You can watch the first in the series here.

Quick and dirty translation:

Hello. I’m very happy to be here speaking to you freely every day about the COP21 summit on RT France. So… the family photo of around 140 world leaders standing side by side with François Hollande… The French President has been waiting for this for a long time, it’s a rare moment, an historical moment; we’ve never seen such participation on the part of global VIPs in a conference on climate change. It even feels like there’s a climate emergency happening right now. That’s not necessarily true, however. This conference happens every year at the same time. This is the 21st – that’s why it’s called COP21. If there’s any emergency, it’s more to do with foreign relations and politics. There was no follow-up on the Kyoto Protocol that was decided upon at the end of the 1990s, and if there’s nothing to follow on from that then it’s not the ice shelves that are going to collapse, but rather climate change diplomacy. We’re here at the Eiffel Tower next to the Peace Wall because I would like to remind you of something. In 2007 the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Al Gore and the IPCC – the group of climate change experts that was incorporated into the UN. They said this: “If we don’t deal with climate change, if the Earth continues to warm up, there’ll be a greater risk of wars.” However, other observers have pointed out that the past 20 years have been some of the hottest on record, but also a reduction in the number of wars and the number of victims of warfare. It’s a reasonable question to ask during the COP21 summit: were they right or not? The French people haven’t been taken in by the COP21: a recent survey showed that around three quarters of people think that if an agreement is reached following the COP21 summit, it will simply be a greenwash, and that it is mostly being driven by electoral considerations. We know that President Hollande ws elected with the help of the green vote; he needed their help and invited them to join his first cabinet, before getting rid of them. Now, with the Presidential elections of 2017 approaching, he needs to win back the green vote, particularly in light of the declining inluence of the Green Party. What’s more, the climate change issue also gives him a chance to finish the year on a high note, allowing him to avoid discussion of vexatious subjects like unemployment – where the numbers are looking extremely bad. See you tomorrow.

RT, of course, has never had a particular editorial line on climate change (it enthuses over heartwarming pro-environment stories just as happily as it reports climate sceptic conspiracy theories). It doesn’t really have an editorial line on anything that doesn’t affect Russian foreign interests, but it will happily jump on other people’s anti-authority narratives wherever it finds them (it takes a similar approach to the Palestinians).

That’s not the interesting part, however. The interesting part is that it’s applying the exact same strategy using a helpful comedian and a genuine-if-disaffected reporter, and apparently achieving a broadly similar effect in both cases. Verdier’s piece has not had the same viral coverage as Walker’s skits, but he has had a certain amount of support (and a few criticisms) on Twitter:

(The message reads “Thank you @RTenfrancais for letting me cover my 4th COP summit freely and with no weasel words”.)

And on Facebook:

Philippe Verdier RT


(The comment above reads “Dissidence has found a political asylum.”)

These people are geniuses. I’m deadly serious: RT, if you have any jobs going, message me. I want in on this. No money required; to sit at your feet and absorb your brilliance will suffice.

The Jihad of Abu Waf-Waf

Diesel the dog

As you may have heard, a police dog was killed during some of the raids against suspected terrorists’ homes in Saint-Denis, just North of Paris.

Possibly surprisingly, given the French reputation for only caring about animals when they’re well-roasted and swimming in red wine sauce, the demise of the dog, Diesel, has attracted a great deal of internet emotion.

#jesuisdiesel Tribute to you, who sacrificed yourself for us #RIPDiesel

@PNationale @jesuischien #JeSuisChien (I am a dog) #JeSuisChienne (I am a bitch – no, really) Tribute from my kitty to Diesel: “je suis Diesel!”

But there have also been a lot of jokes:

Wanted: this cat has been radicalised and is suspected of being the brains behind the killing of Diesel #SaintDenis #JeSuisChien

Abu Waf Waf Al-Kelbi claims responsibility for the attack in St-Denis and declares war on all doggy apostates

(Waf is what dogs say in France.)

Abu Shapotté of the terrorist group Salam Kitty has declared that “this is only the beginning” – report by Ibnou Nyan Cat #JeSuisChien

“Shapotté” sounds like the French for Puss-in-Boots.

This is war #abu miao…

Paris attacks dog joke twitter

@sofianemv17 A Syrian pet passport was found at the scene of the crime

Paris attacks twitter dog joke

@HamzaAchel Most cats are peaceful, don’t treat them all like terrorists

In my hood they be shouting Allah Akbar when they heard about the police dog… #JeSuisUnChien

See also: Cats of Singapore, Cats of Singapore, Part II

How did the Chinese internet respond to the Paris attacks?

In a word: boringly, or I would have covered this sooner.Fluctuat nec Mergitur

“Pray for Paris”*, “Eiffel Tower closed indefinitely” and “Paris bombings and shootings” are trending on Weibo:

Weibo Pray for Paris

The other topics are 一年级·大学季  (a reality tv show), Xiong Dun (a cartoonist), Yang Mi (actress), Cecilia Boey (K-pop singer), Zhang Yuxi (actress/model), 明家三兄弟 (tv drama), and “France train derailment” – another story that came up on the same day but which has no connection to the terrorist attacks. (A lot of the comments are on the theme of misfortunes seldom arriving singly.)

The #PrayforParis and “Paris bombings and shootings” posts are mostly the same sort of sentiments as you can see on your own Facebook news feed, so there’s little point in translating them. Oh. And product placement. Always with the product placement.

What is moderately interesting is that Chinese netizens have tended to mention #PrayforParis within the wider context of everything else grim that’s currently going on (Middle East, earthquakes, refugees etc.), rather than devoting a single post to it, although it’s still worth noting that even in China it’s #PrayforParis that’s trending, not #PrayforBeirut.

Oh, and netizens are particularly interested in this guy:

guy saved by a bullet hitting his phone

… who claims he was saved when a bullet ricocheted off his phone rather than his head.

Incidentally, the Eiffel Tower thing is doing well because a great number of Chinese netizens have a trip there on their bucket list, and have been dismayed to learn that Europe’s incipient religious wars may screw up their travel plans.

But that’s enough of Weibo. Things get a bit more interesting when you move to the rather more insane world of online bulletin boards

On Tianya the threads appear to be being monopolised by people with a pre-existing interest in the oppression of Muslims – largely, it appears, because they apparently are Muslims and are mad as hell and not going to take it any more:

Chinese Muslim

Chinese Muslims

Those two posts both basically suggest that the French had it comng for oppressing segments of their society.

In fact, the Chinese government has a history of censoring news items about Muslims misbehaving. Not, as the English language experts like to tell us, because the Arab Spring may inspire the entire Chinese population to rise up en masse and kick out their evil communist rulers, but because China has a fractious Muslim population of its own and it doesn’t want them getting any ideas. (Yet another incidence of well-intentioned Westerners assuming that anyone fighting against an autocratic leader must – ex officio – be a lovely person.)

There are also a certain number of conspiracy theories involving Russia, all more or less incomprehensible:

blaming russia

That guy thinks the Russians knew this was going to happen in advance, possibly that they orchestrated it, but also – I think – that the US is controlling ISIS. As the reply states: “Wtf kind of logic is that?”

And so we turn finally to Tiexue.

Stuffed to the Plimsoll line with loons though it may be, Tiexue is actually an excellent resource for anyone interested in Chinese politics because most of its members are armchair generals of long standing, and are happy to give detailed opinions. Certainly, it skews right, but there are always enough counter-opinions to construct a semi-balanced viewpoint.

Unsurprisingly for a forum with a strong nationalist component, there is much less Muslim outrage here, and America largely replaces Russia in the conspiracy theorising. Indeed, the second most upvoted comment dismisses the whole thing as American imperialism without any further explanation:

Tiexue American imperialism

And another guy feels that the French deserve no sympathy because Charlie Hebdo ran a cartoon about the Russian plane crash:

angry on Tiexue

Though he is swiftly rebuked by a chap who reminds him that radical Islam is a threat in China too, and not to be taken lightly:

East Turkistan

*Incidentally, was there ever a wussier slogan coined than “Pray for Paris”? It’s essentially an admission of defeat. Why not skip straight to “thank you for not shooting our citizens”?

Translating DSK

Dominique Strauss-Kanh

Ok, once again, not Asia, but it’s so good that I couldn’t resist.

I’m a paid up member of the UMP, but I would happily vote for DSK. And by that I don’t mean “I would have voted for him prior to the Nafissatou and Carlton affairs”, I mean I would vote for him right now if I had the nerve to stand. I – along with more or less everyone else in Paris – knew all about his proclivities long before the Sofitel affair. To disown him merely because he has been taken to court over it seems churlish.

What’s more, his recent trial for what the anglophone press persists in referring to as ‘aggravated pimping’ has only confirmed me in my views, for against all expectations, the old goat is actually managing to come through it with a certain farouche nobility. Now that’s presidential material, right there.

The basic back-story is the following: DSK and a selection of other worthies are charged with organising parties at which prostitutes were present. The allegations suggest that DSK received their services as a gift and cooperated with their employer to organise some of the aforementioned parties, hence the accusation of conspiracy to live off immoral earnings (or, if you are a British journalist, ‘aggravated pimping’ *le sigh*). DSK and his co-defendants are saying that they had no idea that the women were being paid for their services, and thought that they were just doing it for fun.

In any case, DSK finally took the stand the other day, and his responses were almost poetic. I am about to make a mess of my attempt to translate some of them, because they are given in exceptionally high-flown latinate French that is impossible to render into English. In any case, here’s my best effort in the context of an excellent summary of the state of things written by Pascale Robert-Diard, who has been covering the trial for Le Monde. Poetry has been prefered to fidelity throughout.

The free libertine and his cringing servants

The moment has finally arrived: I no longer want to write about what is being said here in court. It would be too complacent, too facile to use the justification of open court to list salacious details. After two days of arguments dealing with the accusations brought against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, I have finally begun to feel queasy. It began after reading the hundred or so pages on the subject contained in the dossier presented before the court, with their insistence on the raw details of his sex life which – according to the prosecution – are effectively charges to be brought against him.

Strauss-Kahn emphasized this himself: what is on trial here – the question of living off immoral earnings or something else? After dealing with the events alleged to have taken place at the Hotel Murano, a second incident was brought before the court, beginning in a swingers club and ending in a Brussels hotel room. Jade – one of the former prostitutes who have brought civil suits – was present. She had been the designated driver that night, taking the Director of the IMF and a friend from the club to the hotel.

The story provides some much needed comic relief. His friends having been obliged to return to Lille, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who had to attend an international conference the following morning in Brussels, found himself with no means of transport. Before leaving, the faithful Fabrice Paszowski inspected Jade’s car – a Peugeot 206 – to make sure that it was suitable for the conveyance of his idol. So it was that, in the dead of night, the Director of the IMF folded himself into the back of a 206 – he chivalrously let his female companion take the front seat – driven by a woman who chatted to him about her job as an erotic dancer. One can’t help but smile when one realises that at any moment a deer or a drunk driver could have caused a serious diplomatic incident. In any case…

Jade followed him into the hotel. What followed left her with a bad memory, which she ran through in enthusiastically painful detail for the court, leading the judge to point out that she had nevertheless agreed – in return for 2000 euros – to accompany Dominique Strauss-Kahn to Washington several months later on a trip organized by friends, during which she was photographed smiling in the IMF Director’s office.

Once more it was Frédérique Baulieu who took on the business of questioning Jade’s account of the incident in the Brussels hotel room, based on which Jade asserted that Dominique Strauss-Kahn could not have been unaware that she was a prostitute. The face-off between the witness and Strauss-Kahn’s lawyer was tense: civil but insistent, and the young lady responded with tears. No male lawyer could possibly have asked the sodomy question, upon which several of the accusations brought against DSK rest. As Baulieu put it: “So, according to you, there are certain sexual practices that are reserved for prostitutes and could not be practiced by women who are swingers, or even ordinary women like you or me within the context of a relationship with a husband, a partner or a boyfriend?” More tears.

At the request of the judge, Dominique Strauss-Kahn took the stand.

“My sexuality is more… crude than that of most men. Some women may enjoy it, others not. But that has nothing to do with prostitution.”

He added, with a slight tone of irritation in his voice:

“I am growing tired of this. Everyone has the right to disapprove of my behaviour, but it nevertheless does not imply that I had recourse to prostitutes. Certainly these practices are a minority interest, but there are still plenty of people who enjoy them. Why should they be of any interest to the court, unless you intend to prosecute me for having deviant tastes?”

As on the first day that he took the stand, the weary openness and detachment with which Strauss-Kahn described his sexuality was impressive. Possibly this is all that remains after having lost so much, but the contrast with his co-defendants – who cringe with shame as they describe their own behaviour (voyeurism, an appetite for paid encounters or any number of other specialist pleasures) – is remarkable. When the lawyer Emmanuel Riglaire cried over his lost respectability, telling the court between sobs about his wife’s depression, or when David Roquet’s voice cracked as he described how he lost his job as head of an Eiffage Group subsidiary and now drives a van, or when Police Comissionner Jean-Christophe Lagarde tripped over his own denials, Strauss-Kahn’s testimony has been one of the less bleak aspects of the affair. This band of local notables were irresistibly drawn in to the misadventures of a powerful individual, an unself-conscious libertine, becoming – in some cases – his servile but inadequate imitators.

Deconstructing the Responses to the Charlie Hebdo Attack

Je Suis Charlie

Yeah, I know, it’s not Asia, but I am a Sciences Po – indulge me. Moreover, in these days of 24-hour rolling news, it’s never too early to start on the analysis, as the pols tweet frantically to gain control of the narrative.

So who’s won?

Not the government, that’s for sure. This could, in other circumstances, have benefited those in charge, with an upswelling of national sentiment etc. etc. No doubt there will be one – it’s beginning now, in fact, and you can follow it in real time under the hashtag #CharlieHebdo – but it won’t help Hollande’s beleaguered cabinet at all. He comes to it with two reputational handicaps that will undermine any attempt to make hay:

1. This follows up on a series of smaller-scale attacks that took place over the holidays, involving Islamic extremists crashing cars into people walking down the street and attacking police officers.  The authorities tried to play the incidents down, with the Interior Minister and the prosecutors insisting that it was the work of ‘mentally unstable’ individuals with ‘long psychiatric histories’, who merely yelled ‘Allah Akbar’ to ‘psych themselves up’ (genuine translations of the official statements – I’m not making this up),  and was definitely ‘not terrorism‘ (one can only imagine how frustrating this must have been for the wannabe terrorists themselves). Bizarre as it may seem to anyone used to US reactions to terrorism, the strategy worked incredibly well. It all happened in the run-up to Christmas, and mass media audiences were focused on the holidays. The only people who tried to make a big deal out of the story were the far (and far-ish) right’s usual suspects, who – perversely – probably succeeded in undermining the very idea that they were trying to promote: that this was a serious national threat. If extremists and paranoiacs believe it, then it must be false, amirite? Kind of like when the KKK holds a fundraiser for Darren Wilson. A sort of anti-Streisand effect. Sometimes you just need to face up to the fact that your rep is just so bad that the best way you can help is by not helping.

Already this image is doing the rounds on Twitter, supposedly to illustrate the government’s lackadaisical position on terrorism:


It’s a quote from Bernard Cazeneuve, the Interior Minister, pointing out that ‘it’s not illegal to support jihad’. Probably. If it were just that, it would be an entirely correct statement, and a manifestation of precisely that freedom of speech for which the Charlie Hebdo journalists died. The problem lies in the verb prôner, which means ‘to advocate in favour of something’.  In everyday speech, however, it more usually implies ‘to advocate in favour of something that you do yourself‘. Uh-oh.

But why was it so necessary to play down the attacks in the first place? Don’t politicians tend to exaggerate the threat of terrorism to consolidate their own power? Often yes. But in the last set of French presidential elections the Front National vote hit 17.9%, and all the indicators suggest that it will be higher next time around. At the opposite end of the scale, the disaffected youth of the banlieues includes a large Muslim contingent (though not nearly as large as the British tabloid press would have you believe) and is liable to riot whenever they feel got at. Which – given the level of institutional racism in French society – is frequently.

Ironically, 2013 saw an unexpected flowering of public fraternity between France’s largely rural, bourgeois Catholic right and the conservative Muslims of the Paris suburbs. United by their shared horror of buttsecks, they came together in vast numbers to protest against the new law in favour of gay mariage. Unfortunately, it seems that while the friendship is unlikely to last, both groups left with a renewed sense of purpose and team spirit, and – more importantly – an awareness of the amount of leverage they were capable of exerting when they really put their minds to being awkward. (They did not succeed in overturning the law, but they did have a huge effect on the right-wing UMP’s internal leadership elections, strengthening the social conservative vote and dividing the party.)

So yes. Minimising the pre-Christmas attacks would have been an excellent strategy, if they hadn’t immediately been followed by a far bigger and effectively un-minimisable attack. As it is, it looks as though the government willfully ignored omnipresent signs of impending disaster and risked lives out of a mixture of timidity and ideological blindness. Realistically speaking, this is probably not the case. The security services have probably been doing their damndest (or, well, you know… their damndest – they’re not generally hugely efficient, and it won’t necessarily be the equivalent of your damndest, but still… points for effort) to put a stop to this sort of thing ever since the original attacks, but the key lesson that 9/11 taught us all is that security is performative. Unlike justice, it might not necessarily be done, but by God it needs to be seen to be done. All those invasive TSA screenings might be next to useless as far as stopping terrorists is concerned, but they give the impression that something is being done. The quiet work done behind the scenes by the Renseignements généraux and others gives the impression that nothing is being done.

As Michael Migueres of the UMP put it: ‘Things are looking black. The Republic is weak, and its enemies are engaged in a war against it that the government refuses to see. France has ceased to be governed, now it is not even being protected.’

2. People just don’t believe the government cares. Not about terrorism, but about them, full stop. The Socialist Party elite are seen as being totally disconnected from the reality of the majority of France’s citizens. When Valérie Trierweiler’s allegations that François Hollande enjoyed taking the piss of the poor in private surfaced, they were not so much the source of mass outrage as of a sort of collective shrugging agreement that, yes, he probably did say it and no, it’s not surprising. It was bad enough – and we’re talking ‘bad’ as in ‘poll-ratings-of-12%-bad‘ here – when people merely felt that the government didn’t care about high taxes, low growth and high unemployment. The risk now is that they’ll be perceived as not caring about terrorism either.

Intriguingly, the government response has mixed aspects of the old, minimising strategy, with more of a ‘strong leadership’ approach. François Hollande was on the scene relatively quickly, which seems to indicate that he has learnt his lesson from previous criticisms about not being hands-on enough, moreover, he immediately labelled the attack as ‘terrorism’, which goes some way towards undoing the effects of previous denials. The overall response to his speech, even on the right, was relatively positive, or at least neutral.

The Instagram from the situation room was less successful, with Le Lab, a young, right-wing new site tweeting it with Buster Keaton poker-faced irony.


Took me several double-takes to realise that’s Athena on the mantlepiece, not Batman

One suspects that in less solemn circumstances it would have been subjected to a similar treatment to the infamous Cameron-on-the-phone-to-Obama tweet.

Moreover, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s attempt to contain prospective vigils and demonstrations was a dismal failure. Calling on all ‘republicans’ (in France this merely means something akin to ‘good citizens’, not Fox News junkies) to march ‘with contemplation, solidarity and silence’ (emphasis, one suspects, on the last of the three) at Place de la République tomorrow night. Spot the mistake? Yes, the Paris Socialists have long been terrible at social media (one of the greatest joys of the younger UMP supporters involves cybersquatting technologically inept Socialist personalities – it’s the little pleasures in life etc.). It is not surprising that they underestimated the speed with which people like to organise mass events these days. Tomorrow night? Fuck that, cried the internet. It’s on for tonight:


Most of the main news outlets are diffusing that call to arms rather than the Hidalgo version.

If you want to show solidarity yourself, protests and vigils are being held across France and abroad: Le Monde has a map. They have already started in many places.

So, if the Socialists haven’t done very well out of it, how did the opposition fare? Pretty badly too, in the case of the UMP. The problem with being in opposition when these things happen is that if you do make a statement you’re a cynical bandwagon-jumper, and if you don’t you’re a heartless shit. While no one could possibly criticise Nicolas Sarkozy’s anti-terrorist credentials (not many people outside France know that he once single-handedly rescued a class full of children from a suicide bomber, a feat would make most politicians 100% fire-proof, electorally speaking), there was a fair amount of oh-Gawd-not-him-again groaning when he made his official speech. Actually, it was a somewhat bland and forgettable effort – again, the only possible strategy to adopt if you know that you’ll be damned if you do and damned if you don’t. It’s worth noting, however, that among the platitudes was a clear challenge to Hollande’s administration: ‘The government must take clear measures against terrorism’. The right will almost certainly pick up on this within the next few days, causing yet more problems for Hollande. If he does introduce new measures, he risks alienating his few remaining supporters. If he doesn’t, he will confirm his reputation for weakness.

Meanwhile, on the other, more socially conservative wing of the UMP, Jean-François Copé tried desperately to burnish his chances for future electoral success, toning down his current highly anti-Muslim reputation by declaring that he hopes that there will be ‘no division and stagmatisation of our Muslim compatriots’. (No chance. Nicolas Sarkozy and a variety of corruption scandals have finished his leadership hopes.)

The biggest winners, however, will undoubtedly be the National Front, and they know it very well. Marine Le Pen has been relatively restrained, hinting delicately that now is not the time to discuss politics, while – of course – discussing politics. She did, however, manage to get in a couple of small I-told-you-sos in the direction of the government’s minimisation policy. Her right-hand man, Florian Philippot, added – with ominious piety – that ‘the time for political debate will come’

Venus in furs

François Hollande

Bottom row middle is the original, in case you were wondering.

François Hollande went to Kazakhstan this weekend, where Nursultan Nazarbayev gave him a fur coat and an ushanka.

Apparently the Elysée press office did not want the pictures released (I can’t think why), but the Kazakhs made the decision on their behalf, and then the internet took over.

As a long-term connoisseur of photos of politicians looking awkward in “local” outfits, I’m not actually all that impressed. Sure, he looks slightly silly, but it’s not nearly as horrendous as the infamous APEC ponchos of a few years back. I think that the buzz is more to do with Hollande’s pre-existing unpopularity than any inherent ridiculousness. A man with better poll numbers would have been able to carry it off.

Personally, if I were leading a party that was as attached to human rights as the Parti Socialiste is, I’d be more embarrassed about the chap standing next to me than the outfit, but there you go…