youth also dominates his analysis of the political consequences of the economic crash whose impact runs through these pages, and offers some fascinating factoids – half of all Europeans are over 50, whilst three quarters of Algerians are under 25. There are as many people under 30 in China as in Russia, the US and Australia combined, and in India twice as many as in China. That too is a powerful force of global change, and will have its impact on Western politics of the future.As to what it all means for the next French elections, I don’t know.
But this book provides part of the backdrop, economic and political. It should make interesting reading for anyone involved in that campaign. Whilst clearly still of the view Sarkozy was and is the right choice for France, (though the polls at the time of writing indicate he is in a minority) he throws out ideas and challenges for right and left alike. As traditional lines are drawn, careful reading might provoke candidates and parties to see that they should always be looking to the next new ideas, not merely repackaging the last new, let alone the old.
I was in Paris recently as a guest of the left think tank, Terra Nova, and met politicians, advisors, militants, experts, journalists and bloggers. I came away with some strong impressions. Firstly, virtually everyone told me that President Sarkozy was hugely unpopular, and his ratings as low as it was possible to go. Yet many of the same people told me he could still win. They know he relishes a campaign. They suspect he may have learned from some mistakes. Incumbency is a powerful weapon.
A comeback is a powerful narrative. And they worried that with the President so unpopular, the economy sluggish, social issues raw, and the left in power in many parts of France, the PS should have been doing far better in the polls (to which, incidentally, French politicians and media pay far too much attention.)Of course this was pre selection of a PS candidate.
Many of the Socialists agreed with my analysis that once they had chosen the candidate, they needed to unite behind that candidate, resist their historic predilection for factionalism, run a campaign that was fresh, energetic and based upon a programme totally focused on the future and one which addressed people’s concerns. They agreed too that the PS could no longer look down its nose at communication, but had to see it not just as an essential element of campaigning, but a democratic duty at a time when people have so many pressures on their lives and living standards, and concerns about the world around them. But though they agreed with the analysis, some worried about the Party’s capacity to deliver upon it. The fear of another defeat ought to be enough, surely, to deliver on the first and essential part: unity. As someone on the progressive side of the political divide, I continue to think the French left’s over intellectualisation of politics, its focus on never-ending debate instead of agreement around big points and unity behind one accepted leader remains a problem.I added that I felt the way was wide open for someone to come along and set out, with total honesty and clarity, the challenges ahead, the limitations of what one leader or one country can do, but explain the world and begin to shape direction. In other words, what I sensed behind the seeming confusion and rather disgruntled nature of French opinion was a real desire for leadership of a strategic rather than a tactical nature.
There too, there were concerns, not least because of memories of the negative impact on Lionel Jospin’s campaign when he stated – truthfully – that the State could not do everything.I heard a lot about Marine Le Pen and certainly the polls tell a good story for the leader of the Front National. She has certainly shown she can mount a campaign and get the media to accept a sense of change. When even her enemies refer to as Marine, rather than the more toxic Le Pen, that is something of a success. But whenever I have heard her, I have not heard a powerful argument for the future of France.So France enters a fascinating period, where not one single person I met predicted the outcome of either first or second round without at least some doubt in their eyes.
When things are so tight, communications can make the difference. It is not a dirty word.I don’t agree with all of Seguela’s analysis. I don’t accept that only four US presidents radically changed the country. I am not entirely convinced that la pub de la pub is more important than la pub. I am not sure that David Cameron’s loss of a child had the political impact Seguela thinks it did. I think Brits will be also be surprised at the dominant role he gives in the Tory campaign to his colleague David Jones. I think he overstates how Sarkozy is seen in the world.
I agree with him that we need to be cautious about the potential abuse of the internet which has no global governance or regulation to match, but I’m not sure I agree this risks being ‘en bras arme de l’anarchie’. But it is a book full of understanding of some of the big themes and the small details required for a successful campaigning mindset.He is, as one would expect for someone who has been close to different leaders, clued up on the importance of good chemistry between leader and strategist. He understands the importance of body language as well as language. He knows the importance of emotion as well as reason. He understands how the web is changing politics.
One of my favourite phrases is that ‘life is on the record’. He has a different way of putting it. ‘Le “off” n’existe plus desormais. Tout ce que vous direz pourra se retourner contre vous.’ It is why the whole ‘droit d’etre oublie’ is emerging as a debate. How many of the young men and women today filling the web with pictures and confessions from their private lives may end up running for office one day, and regretting their openness? On verra.
Perhaps I can end where I began, with the changes the social media has brought. At the last election Labour did not do poster campaigns. This was a shame. In previous campaigns we had had some brilliant posters.
But under Gordon Brown, we had very little money for the campaign. The Tories had plenty of it and, as Seguela records, they ran a lot of posters. One of their most expensive billboard campaigns was of a giant photo of Cameron with an anti-Labour slogan ‘we can’t go on like this.’ Someone noticed that the Tory leader’s face had been airbrushed. This fact became the source of thousands of tweets. Then someone set up a website mydavidcameron.comwhere people could send their own, largely anti-Tory, versions of this poster.
These were sent in in their thousands, and many were much better, wittier and more politically devastating than the original. I’ll tell you when I knew they had wasted their money – when the newspapers carried photos of one giant poster site which had been defaced … Cameron’s hair had been replaced with a painted version of Elvis Presley’s hair, and to the slogan ‘we can’t go on like this’ had been added the words of one of Elvis’ most famous songs … ‘with suspicious minds’. The combination of the internet and wit had reduced the political impact of a hugely expensive campaign to zero. That is my final thought as you begin to read Jacques Seguela’s account. It is a quote from a former colleague, Labour MP Hazel Blears … ‘Campaigning is like sex.
If you’re not enjoying it, you’re not doing it properly.’