The Royal Gallery is always the preferred location to receive French heads of state. The vast painting of Waterloo on one wall faces the equally vast painting of the death of Nelson. They must be 30ft long. But faded, very faded, sic transit gloria mundi.
"Oh, Bernard," I said, seeing the Tory MP walking past with the little gizmo and earphones, "surely your French is good enough?"
"You've seen Lost in Translation?" He replied, "I don't want it to end like that."
Ah, but it did. It was long. Nothing much happened in a charming way. There was much preliminary admiration, flirting, prolonged caressing, stroking, a little rising to the occasion, but no shuddering, convulsive ecstatic union of two body politiques. Not there and then. Not in the Royal Gallery. I don't know how it went later with Gordon.
We all had to stand up, damn it, when he came in. The British press corps likes to sit in its unimpressible way for any foreign head of state. We didn't stand up for George Bush, after all. But yesterday we were massively outnumbered, it was in the Lords, and it wasn't a press conference. We stood up pretending we couldn't see otherwise.
We couldn't see anyway. He's very small, the French head of state. He looks like Charles Aznavour. Disappointingly, his wife doesn't look like Edith Piaf. I suppose we can't have everything. But he looks like Aznavour and gesticulates like an Italian traffic policeman so that makes up for it.
His speech. That was more pro-British than Gordon Brown's "I'm Not Scots" effort. And probably for the same reason. He told us how brave and brilliant we were, how we'd invented democracy and saved the world. How France had to follow our example. And that everyone on the left of the hall should stay where they were while the right hand seats could proceed against the red light (I'd taken off the earphones and was relying on the gestures).
There were two direct lifts from Tony Blair – ensembles nous sommes plus forts etc, and that we had to remember sans cesse ce qui nous unit et non ce qui nous devise.
That's what all conquerors say. Never mind the flattery, the fact is that after a thousand years of losing to England and then Britain, France has prevailed. They won. We have become more and more like France, more and more quickly.
We talk too much, like they do. We have adopted dirigisme, on their example. We have a political class in a way we never had before. And most painfully, our parliament has degenerated to the condition of an old French parlement with the power to approve or criticise legislation, but not to prevent it. Sic transit gloria.Reuse content