Carola Long: If you want to get on, be like the boss

It's not President Sarkozy's place to tell his colleagues to lose weight
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The Independent Online

Forget the foie-gras, say Bof! to the Beaujolais, and turn away from the tarte tatin. If you're in President Sarkozy's cabinet, that is. Cutbacks are all the rage amongst British politicians, and now the French Premier is stealthily enforcing his own special version; on his ministers' diets.

According to the French media, since the President became obsessed with staying slim and fit, he is pressurising his politicians to follow his example in a bid to give the Elysée palace a beau monde lustre. Brice Hortefeaux, the interior minister and close friend of the president, has shrunk from rosé-cheeked chubster to a lean, tired-looking figure, while several other male ministers have shed pounds or embarked on gruelling fitness regimes.

Sarkozy's latest incarnation as an exercise evangelist gives new meaning to toeing the party line, but it also throws up questions of how far your job should dictate your personal life – and image. Essentially the French government is just a particularly competitive version of any other office – be it in Paris or Pontypridd. The same concerns of how far to surrender your own volition to the dictates of workplace culture apply.

Anyone who has ever gone out with a colleague for a cigarette – and a clandestine chat – when they are trying to give up smoking will know the feeling. The oppressed employee who has munched their way through a tasteless canteen sandwich al desko rather than escaped for a blissful 30 minutes in Prêt will have felt a little bit of their personal freedom die in the name of furthering their career.

And then there is looking the part. Self-expression or comfort are invariably surrendered to sporting the workplace dress code, whether that is a suit, heels and make-up or the hipster uniform of a fashion magazine. Dressing correctly is an essential part of climbing the greasy pole.

It's one thing to expect people in public life to package themselves well – good clothing is no different from fine rhetoric after all. It's just presentation. But trying to influence something as personal as weight, shape and health is an intrusion too far, even if some might be amused at the men in Sarkozy's cabinet being subject to the same kind of insidious image pressure that female politicians have suffered for years.

Incursions into personal freedom aside, Sarkozy might want to increase his national popularity by presenting a trim cabinet, but imposing rationing like a Ray-Ban wearing drill sergeant won't endear him to his own party. Sarkozy might do well to remember Caesar's misgivings in Julius Caeser. He warns, "Let me have men about me that are fat... Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look/he thinks too much:such men are dangerous." And look what happened there. Perhaps he should also remember the French Revolution was partly triggered by hunger. Rather than starving your cabinet Monsieur President, I would let them eat cake.