5 April 2019

It Is Extremely Difficult for the French

I try to avoid the news in general, and political news in particular, but time was hanging heavy on my hands yesterday and I watched some of the Brexit shenanigans in the House of Lords. Although I'm sure he didn't intend to be funny, Lord Marlesford's comments made me laugh out loud:
Lord Marlesford:

My Lords, I will speak very briefly, following up the words of my noble friend Lord Lawson about the impact on public opinion of the procedures in Parliament in relation to this Bill, which could be very serious. The example I give to noble Lords is that of France, once our hereditary enemy, now our great friend. Why is it that France is so much harder to manage and govern than Britain? Let me give the obvious example. If public protests in Britain turn into violent riots, the public do not like it. Even if they agree with the original cause, they tend to tell Parliament to sort it out. When that happens in France, the French Government normally have two choices: send in the CRS to break their heads, or give in. They usually give in. It is extremely difficult for the French. This all dates back to 1789 —

Noble Lords:

Oh!

Lord Marlesford:

It dates back to the French Revolution, and the failure of the then very inefficient monarchical Government, the Estates General. They met on 5 May and split, and the Third Estate — the people — went off to the tennis court and objected. The result was that, a few days later, the Bastille was stormed. The King was executed in February 1792, then came a year of terror between July 1793 and July 1794, which ended when Robespierre was guillotined. The French, therefore, are very conscious of the inadequacies of their form of government and of their Parliament.​

Recently, seeking an outsider to run the show, they elected President Macron. They did not know very much about him, but they have now woken up to the fact that, far from being an outsider, he is actually the archetypal insider. They have shown their annoyance and rage through the gilets jaunes. We should consider the impact of this legislation — or rather, of the way it is being handled — on public opinion, because we do not want gilets jaunes here.

Jacques-Louis David, Le Serment du Jeu de paume (1791)