OBITUARY:Denis Baudouin

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The Independent Online
General Charles de Gaulle died on the evening of 9 November 1970. His son Admiral de Gaulle, stationed at Brest, took the night train to Paris when he heard the news. Arriving before seven in the morning he thought it important to get in touch immediately with the President of the Republic, Georges Pompidou. But the receptionist at the Elysee said that he should speak to the President's press officer, Denis Baudouin. The admiral refused, and ceased in his attempt. The reason why de Gaulle fils refused to speak with Baudouin at that significant moment tells us much about the political animosities that existed and that were usually concealed.

Baudouin, a journalist by profession, had seen the presidential elections of 1965 as the moment to make a fundamental change in French public life. France needed a new, young president who would be in touch with the modern world and, above all, who would recognise the importance of European union. Therefore he became the organiser of the campaign for Jean Lecanuet, a 45-year-old Social Catholic aiming for the vital votes of the centre party.

His campaign was so successful that Lecanuet won more than 15 per cent of the votes on the first ballot, inflicting on de Gaulle the humiliation of standing on the second ballot against Francois Mitterrand. Because of Lecanuet more French people had voted against de Gaulle than for him. This was unforgivable. Baudouin continued with his anti-Gaullism and he was one of the organisers of the "Non" campaign in the referendum of April 1969, which had caused the General to resign.

From the moment of the Liberation he was suspicious of Gaullism. He feared that a strong personality would dominate France in a manner detrimental to its true interests. As a journalist he showed sympathy for the social catholic centre and for the independents. During the 1950s he was director of France Independante and then Le Journal des Independants. The return of de Gaulle to power was the result of the Algerian crisis, but once this was over and the danger of civil war had passed, then he thought that de Gaulle should go. After the 1965 election Jacques Duhamel became his leader and through him he became acquainted with Georges Pompidou, especially after he had ceased to be Prime Minister in 1967, and with Jacques Chirac, who remained a minister but who was preparing for the future.

Thus it was that Baudouin supported the anti-Gaullist "Non" vote in the 1969 referendum in connivance with those who officially supported the General, but who welcomed the prospect of his defeat. In the 1969 election he supported Pompidou as President and after his victory he was appointed his press officer. Pompidou represented everything that he admired in politics: he was intelligent, quick, pragmatic, with an eye on everything, open to ideas, ready to talk. A real friendship developed between them, especially during the President's long illness. Baudouin often used to quote Pompidou - ''Where I come from we die standing up."

After the death of Pompidou he moved into business but became close to Jacques Chirac. When Chirac was elected Mayor of Paris in 1977, Baudouin became his public relations officer at the Hotel de Ville. As with Pompidou, he was remarkably successful at this and Chirac became a leading figure in French politics without holding any government post. When Chirac became Prime Minister from 1986 to 1988, the first period of "co-habitation" with President Mitterrand, Baudouin became his official adviser and was always considered as one of the close circle of Chiraquiens. He was a European deputy from 1984 to 1989, combining this with his positions in the Hotel de Ville and at Matignon.

But he gradually grew disillusioned with Chirac. In 1988 he joined Hachette, whether because he saw Chirac as a perpetual loser, or because he was disappointed by his evolution as a leader. (It is noteworthy that no member of the Chirac family attended his funeral.) Later Baudouin turned to Edouard Balladur, finding him more sound and reliable, especially over the future constitution of Europe. But, whilst Chirac was seeking to be more like de Gaulle, Balladur bore an increasing likeness to Pompidou.

Baudouin was always discreet. His memoirs were far from sensational. He made it a rule never to appear on television. An outside observer might consider that he changed his political alliances rather easily. But the truth is that, in French politics, to be in the centre or centre-right means that you will be very exacting.

Douglas Johnson

Denis Baudouin, journalist and politician: born Paris 14 February 1923; died Paris 20 October 1995.