The Sketch: There's one thing we can teach the French: 'results-based' rhetoric

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The Independent Online

There is no word for "grandeur" in English. That's what we're up against over here. They have Versailles, we have Buckingham Palace. They have the Louvre, we have the National Gallery. They have the Elysée Palace, we have Downing Street. They have Christine Lagarde, we have (to cheat a bit) Vince Cable.

How glamorous they are. How well dressed. How little afflicted they are with our level of national self-esteem. Their history is a narrative of gloire – an amazing achievement, considering their history.

Here we are at the Elysée Palace waiting for our Prime Minister to meet their President. Yes, we just have a PM and they have a head of state. And he's another Nick. They're everywhere you look, Nicks, if you're David Cameron.

It's cosy for a palace. Nice little courtyard. Handy for the shops across the road. And if you walk out through the gates, the police stop the traffic for you. Mind you, you may have to be a sketch writer.

Never mind that. The two principals came in to the post-prandial press conference and Sarkozy started talking. The palace didn't supply simultaneous translations so we had to deduce what the President was saying. I got the impression they were going to work together on things. They'd had a nice dinner and – you know the rest. He doesn't half talk. Amazing how he goes on. That doesn't make it easy for his guest.

Cameron definitely needs to work on his listening-at-the-lecturn technique. The earpiece creates problems. It puts the voice directly into the brain, like a hypnotist's. Suddenly he was gone. His face assumed a transcendental expression. I've seen women look like that when I'm explaining the optimal rate of tax in a western economy.

On and on Sarkozy went. Pausing. Taking in the room with his continental eyes. Gesturing explosively. Dave was drifting. There was another look now, that mescalin look when suddenly it's like, the colours in the room are actually humming along in different frequencies...

He woke up because suddenly it was his turn. Without simultaneous translation I had to deduce what he was saying. It seemed that they were going to work together. They were going to... work together, yes. I caught the words "results-based". It's another phrase for which there is no French translation.

And then questions. English journalists first, the President insisted. Nick Robinson (Nick! Nick! Nick! Is it a code?) reminded Sarkozy he'd "loved" Gordon Brown, and what did he now feel about David Cameron?

Sarkozy thanked him for his "frankness" (French laughter). And he smiled as he said, "English journalists!" (More French laughter.) Blimey, we can be a lot franker than that. Adam Boulton's first question to Cameron was, essentially: "When are you going to resign?"

So, anyway, David Cameron. He must be playing himself in. He's not what you call fully formed, with his earpiece and the psychedelic look.

And yet, as we know, he's the only European leader who's had direct personal experience of his national currency being gangbanged by short sellers. He must have something to say to these people. Counsel, caution, comfort, constructive panic. Any of the above. But for the time being we must have, it seems, "results-based" rhetoric instead.

Cameron in France...

David Cameron stuck closely to his notes during his first speech abroad as Prime Minister. Scribbled blue pen marks reflected the emphasis he gave to a "partnership with a real purpose".

Mr Cameron also mentioned Nicolas Sarkozy's state visit to Britain next month on the 70th anniversary of Charles de Gaulle's radio address from London to occupied France.

He said he was looking forward to "[Mr Sarkozy] coming with his wife". Just how much he was looking forward to it can be seen by the fact that the name "Carla" is underlined three times. Mr Sarkozy, who had not smiled until then, noticeably relaxed and beamed.

Gèneviève Roberts