Instead of covering the weekly instalment of The Rebellion Against The Elites, that takes place in France every Saturday across the country, is unreported in The Financial Times -in another time and place this was called ‘managed news’!
What appeals to M. Mallet and his editors is palace gossip. Saint-Simon’s particular ‘brand’ has the advantage of being of Historical importance. But an ‘insider’s view’, captivates the committed observer, in the political present, without thought of centuries future. Although in America, of late, this genre has been handled by the respetable bourgeois journalist Bob Woodward, or by the tabloid sensibility of Michael Wolff in his ‘Fire and Fury’. As for actual Trump ‘insiders’: Omarosa Manigault Newman, James Comey, Anonymous, John Bolton, Mary Trump: this list lacks the ‘heft’ that M. Mallet might find laudatory?
Edouard Philippe, President Emmanuel Macron’s first prime minister and one of the country’s most popular politicians, is the latest to join the fray with a quintessentially French account of his three years in office — discursive, elliptical and short of revelations about Macron but full of hints about how the country should be run by a centre-right leader such as himself.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s former Brexit negotiator and another possible presidential contender, will see The Great Illusion, on the four years that shook Europe, published next month. Finance minister Bruno Le Maire’s 10th book, The Angel and the Beast, came out in January.
Note that M. Mallet mentions the potent opposition of the gilet jaunes, in his next paragraph, that led to Phillippe’s beard turning grey. A manifestation of honesty, as to the effect of that rebellion that continues unabated. Should the reader dub it ‘Insurrection on the Installment Plan’, a riff on Mort a credit by Louis-Ferdinand Céline? How is the reader to check on Phillippe’s popularity? Everywhere Macron, and his political operatives go, a cadre of armored police follow, shields at the ready to repel the mob! That does have an historical ring?
But it is Philippe — half of whose beard went white with the stress of managing the gilets jaunes anti-government protests and the start of the Covid-19 pandemic — who is the focus of political gossip in Paris. He is thought to be loyal to Macron but has not ruled himself out as a candidate in 2022; some suspect he could “do a Macron”, emulating his 2017 trick of wresting the Elysée Palace from the hands of the man who had appointed him.
Not to forget that Michel Barnier and Bruno Le Maire have or will publish more ‘insider accounts’ on Macron in power. Or even run against Macron! What follows this is a Literary/Political Guided Tour under the rubric of ‘In the past, French author-politicians’ a mediation on the use of metaphors. Chosen by French politicians, and their Technocrats to describe their political interventions, and even ‘the maritime musings of former footballer Eric Cantona’ . The last paragraphs of M. Mallet’s essay, Philippe demonstrates his utter banal attachment to shopworn Hollywood Kitsch. From ‘All my life I have had a certain idea of France.’ to ‘Star Wars’ !
On the whole, though, the tone of the book is unlike anything usually published in the UK or the US. There are no toe-curlingly frank anecdotes such as in Sasha Swire’s Diary of an MP’s Wife, or even the pen-portraits of Barack Obama in A Promised Land, including his scathing description of then French president Nicolas Sarkozy with “his chest thrust out like a bantam cock’s”.
Instead, the reader of a French political book is expected to relish the author’s literary pretensions and to be familiar with the cast of characters before reading the first sentence: Philippe does not refer to Macron by name until page 46.
But maybe, just maybe, Philippe is the harbinger of a new, more populist style of French political writer.
Along with the obligatory references to Churchill and de Gaulle and a series of French biographers and artists, he manages to pay tribute to Anglo-Saxon film and TV culture from Game of Thrones to Star Wars. Just visible in the cover photo of Philippe is a cufflink with the message: “May the force be with you.”