French Right anoints Blair

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TONY BLAIR is a Gaullist. This was the drift of the friendly, low-key French media reaction yesterday to the Prime Minister's speech to the National Assembly.

There was praise for Mr Blair's French, and excited comments from right- of-centre French politicians, claiming him as one of their own.

The Left was reserved, even frosty. The Socialist Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, felt the need to quibble with Mr Blair on one point. Mr Blair told the Assembly that ideology was dead: there was no longer a left- or right-wing way of running an economy, only a good way and a bad way. No, said, Mr Jospin, there were still good and bad left-wing policies and good and bad right-wing policies.

Le Monde, the left-of-centre newspaper, gave Mr Blair's visit only a short story at the bottom of an inside page. The British Prime Minister had, the paper said, "got up to speak with the delighted smile of a child" discovering the gilded splendour of the French parliament for the first time.

But the paper praised Mr Blair's "perfect French" and welcomed the fact that he had given a detailed defence of Blairism, and had not mouthed the traditional empty phrases.

Le Figaro, the right-wing daily, was the only paper to put Mr Blair on the front, under the headline: "The sound advice of Tony Blair". Asked what he thought of the speech, Jean-Pierre Chevenement (radical socialist and interior minister) said in English: "I admire his French." Paul Quiles, a Socialist former defence minister, was more damning: "Usually people who announce the arrival of a new world are either naive or disturbing."

The centre-right's uproarious approval of Mr Blair's address owed something, no doubt, to a release of tension after a week of in-fighting on the French Right over local alliances with the National Front. But right-wing parliamentarians could not hide their joy yesterday at what they imagined to be the discomfiture of the Left. Pierre Lelouche, a Gaullist and right-wing thinker, said: "It was very amusing. It was a fine lesson in Thatcherism, addressed as much to the French Left as the French Right