TGVs, baguettes and class war

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The Independent Online
At this very moment the French nation is tearing itself apart over the question of social welfare. Canada, which has perhaps the worst deficit and debt problems of all the top nations, is seriously worried over the level of spending on welfare and is thinking of drastic steps to reduce it. It will come as no surprise to anyone to learn that our own government is running scared about the amount it spends on the welfare state, and that the US administration is in the same mood.

All through the Western world, regimes are taking a good hard look at the huge amount of money they are paying on people who need it, but who don't seem to deserve it.

The poor and the needy, in other words.

"Yes, I'm afraid so," sighs Professor Jean-Paul Suture, visiting French history expert at the University of Wessex. "The unspoken agreement that prosperous governments should look after their poorer constituents is beginning to break down. The more people clamour for attention, the less likely they are to get it. That is what the struggle in France is all about at the moment."

But surely this has always gone on: students have always fought for more grants, the unemployed have fought for more benefits, the homeless have always demanded a roof?

"It's true. What is different is that governments are beginning to turn round and put two fingers up at them. And governments are beginning to put into practice their own secret solutions."

Could Professor Suture perhaps elaborate on that?

"Certainly," says Professor Suture, sliding back in his chair, propping two fingers under his chin and looking every inch a professor about to deliver a world-shaking message. "Think of my native France again for a moment. Here we have one of the most civilised nations in the world. Yet from time to time it is thrown into the utmost paroxysm of change. Two hundred years ago, we had the French Revolution. Then we had an empire. Then we had the kings back. Then we threw the kings out and became a republic. Then ... but you get my point. France is capable of violent change, non?"


"Now, tell me what happened in the French Revolution."

They cut the king's head off?

"Yes, but that by itself is not revolutionary. After all, you English cut your king's head off in 1648, but 12 years later everything was back to normal. You never really had a revolution. What happened in the French Revolution of true significance was that they also cut the aristocrats' heads off. It was an attempt to get rid of an entire class of person. The aristos had too much money, too much power. Ergo, get rid of the aristos, keep the power and the money."

I don't see what that has to do with today.

"Today the problem is not the aristocrats. It is the poor."

Yes, but you can't get rid of the poor the way you could the aristocrats!

"You think not?" says Professor Suture, raising his eyebrows. "You must not get me wrong, my friend. I am not in favour of eliminating the poor. It has many overtones which I do not like. But you must admit that it is an idea which must appeal to many people in power.

"Pensez-y, mon ami. You are running a country. Every day you are spending billions of pounds on people who do no work and pay no taxes. To begin with, you feel sorry for them. To end up, you feel mad with them. If only they were not there!

"Then you get the secret thought: maybe ... maybe get rid of them."

But how would that be possible? Surely there would be an outcry if it started to happen?

"It has started already, mon ami. The amount of deaths on the roads goes up. The amount of new diseases goes up. The amount of bombs being exploded in Paris goes up. Pollution, mad cow disease, Aids ... all these things are part of a conspiracy to cut down the population.

"Of course, it is really war that reduces population best, but wars are very expensive. They are not cost-effective. Accidents and disease are so much better in the long run."

The professor really thinks this is happening in France?

"If it happens at all, it must happen in France. Voyez-vous, mon ami, the French are much better at getting things done. That is why we have a TGV and you do not. That is why we have a nuclear programme. Think of the difference in our national anthems. "The Marseillaise" is aggressive and revolutionary and calls for change. "God Save the Queen" demands for everything to stay the way it is.

"Yes, I think France will be there first. But I must not say any more. Wait till you see my deeply troubling series on Channel 4, Adieu, Les Pauvres."

I can't wait.