How they love to hate each other: Vivre la difference – Part 1
“You must hate a Frenchman like you hate the devil,” is how Lord Nelson put it just over two hundred years ago. “They are thieves, murderers, oppressors, and infidels.” And now it’s on again. Brickbats, slights, and slurs are flying across the Channel in both directions as diplomatic relations between France and the UK go on the skids — as they so often seem to these days.
Friend or Foe
The political magazine “Le Canard enchaîné” gleefully reported that President Macron had recently referred to Boris Johnson as a “clown.” British PM in waiting, Liz Truss, said she wasn’t sure whether the President of France was a friend or a foe.
Macron hit back:
If France and Britain cannot say whether they are friends or enemies, then we are headed for serious problems.
…And as if to prove he was simply playing a jester’s role, his lame duck de facto British counterpart used clownish language to reply: “Emmanuel Macron est un tres bon buddy de notre pays.”
Everyone knows it’s quite common for politicians everywhere to create these diversionary storms to take the focus away from their own problems.
And Blighty certainly has had quite a few of these — with lots more waiting in the wings. An ongoing wave of coordinated strikes across rail, airlines, Royal Mail, teachers, nurses, and even barristers in the legal profession. The Edinburgh Festival looked a mess — and smelt worse — when garbage collectors walked out leaving mountains of stinking refuse on city streets.
Despite “taking back control” of immigration after Brexit, dinghies full of refugees are arriving on South Coast beaches in increasing numbers. The NHS has a severe budget, bed availability, and staffing issues. And there’s even talk of a general strike.
But it gets worse when looked at from a family perspective
Spiralling inflation and fuel prices have resulted in soaring cost of living increases for the average family. And for October, the UK energy regulator has announced that household energy bills will rise by a whopping 80% — and more again at the end of the year. For many families, this will mean choosing between eating and heating over the winter.
Not quite the Enid Blyton view of Blighty so many dream of. Those endless summer holidays where kids in groups of five or seven enjoyed delicious Devonshire teas in clifftop cottage gardens. And gazed across that protective strip of bright blue water that kept all those shady foreigners at bay.
All this while helping the local Bobbies catch foreign smugglers on the pristine beaches below. A far cry from today’s reality of more food banks than McDonald’s across the UK. And according to the Food Foundation, 2 million children live in homes that do not have access to a healthy and affordable diet. Plus almost one in 20 say that members of their household have gone a whole day without eating in the past month.
The unmentionables that cross the Channel
Then there’s the problem that sometimes it’s not only words that cross the Channel. A post-Brexit stink is brewing about English crottes washing up on French beaches. The EU is applying pressure to stop British discharges of raw sewage into shared waters — a result of a lowering of environmental standards since Brexit. Members of the European Parliament have warned that this is making bathing waters on the French coast hazardous — and it could also harm Continental fishing and shellfish farming.
…And in France things look different
Only 33 kilometres across this stretch of water the French call La Manche, things don’t look quite so bad. France’s largest source of energy is nuclear, meaning it is less affected by spikes in gas and oil prices. The EDF, or Électricité de France, is fully nationalised and the state has capped increases in electricity tariffs at 4%.
So there should be fewer people fainting in France when they face fuel bills in the coming winter. And the French health system consistently rates highly on international comparisons — the WHO has rated it the world’s best.
Meanwhile back in Britain…
In the meantime, back across the Channel, the famous (or notorious) Westminster system of government has creaked into gear. Despite problems building up on all fronts, choosing a new PM still takes weeks and weeks to settle. And no one seems to have a handle on what’s happening — or what’s going to happen. The two contenders in the race — and their respective gangs of advisers, consultants, toadies, and followers — just keep parroting the same old mantra in answer to any question that’s asked: “It’s the new PM’s decision.
And it won’t be long now. You just have to be patient.” “Not long?” Good thing London’s not burning. Or the country’s not at war. But it certainly does take long enough. It started on 7 July. But don’t worry, according to Conservative party headquarters, all will be finalised on 5 September.
So, who will it be? And what will be his or her priorities?
Watch this space for more on this story that’s racing ahead at a snail’s pace. You can read Part 2 of this series here.
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