Two France’s tonight greeted the news that Sarkozy is their new president. There was the 53 percent who voted for him, symbolised by the dancing happy crowds gathered in Place de la Concorde for the offcial celebrations, and the 47 percent who didn’t, some of whom could be seen charging police on Place de la Bastille.
‘Is there anything particularly French about these two reactions?’ Herve Beroud, editor in chief of RTL radio, asked me during his election night show.
My first reaction was that two groups of people were just expressing their respective emotions. Yet the fact that they expressed themselves in the street – which under the Fifth Republic is the only place to question the president – is perhaps specifically French. Sarkozy promised to make the president more responsible, at least to the parliament and the press. Let’s see what happens.
My evening began chez Segolene at the Maison de l’Amerique Latine.
When the result was announced, there was a few seconds of total silence, followed by a few whistles. How to react? Quickly a few supporters – among them stars such as Emmanuelle Beart – began chanting ‘Bravo Segolene.’ The crowd began clapping, and the Bravos and Thank Yous got louder.
Suddenly she was there on the stage. Her radiant smile was not that of a loser. She let the bravos wash over her for a few minutes, before descending into the crowd to thank everyone. When she spoke, she accepted defeat graciously.
‘Universal suffrage has spoken,’ she said in her trademark white dress, twinned with a cream jacket. Then she moved on.
‘You can count on me to continue the profound renewal of the left,’ she said to cheers. ‘It’s the condition of our future victories.’
Some people were crying. Most were defiant. Few of the people I spoke to in Segolene’s first base, including Pierre Berge, former Creative Director of Yves St Laurent Group, were members of the Socialist party. They signed up to this campaign because they believed in Segolene (sorry DSK, who was offering his services as the Socialist Reformer on television stations).
‘We will reconstruct and we will fight,’ said Kykie Alcove, 26. a teaching assistant from the Paris region and member of the youth support group Segosphere. ‘She represents a renewal of politics. Politicians who are concerned with everyday life. Her problem? Perhaps she didn’t have enough time.’
In the gardens below, the stars and militants drank wine. Not champagne.
Will Segolene stick around for a shake-up of the Socialist party? Christophe Chantepy, her chief of staff, told me she intends to remain a prominent figure on the political landscape.
‘With the Socialists?’ I asked. `We will see. Today is for thanking the supporters. Tomorrow is another day.’
Segolene was accompanied by cheers on her short walk to party HQ at Rue Solferino. This was not the atmosphere of the losing team after a football match. She was smiling. People were smiling. Bravo, bravo. Next time.
I left the Socialists around 10 to go to RTL to give the Scottish view on the French elections. Cycling towards the studios I saw a man jogging by the Seine, unmoved by the celebrations on place de la Concorde. When I arrived, television cameras showed Sarkozy taking a break from his responsibilities only a few hours into his job. To the surprise of the media cavalcade accompanying him, he stopped at a restaurant near the Champs Elysee for dinner with a close circle of friends. Sure, he needs to celebrate. But tonight is a public night. Could he not have waited for tomorrow?
When he finally showed up at the party in his name, he gave Faudel, the singer keeping the crowd chaud, a big hug.
He asked the crowd to be ‘tolerant’ and ‘fraternal,’ and show ‘an image of a united France that doesn’t leave anyone at the side of the road.’
There were rumours that he might finish the evening in a nightclub.
I cycled home past the Elysee palace where the Chiracs’ sleep would have been disturbed by the party at Place de la Concorde. On the ride home there was a odd toot of the horn, and several bars were full, but otherwise the atmosphere was strangely lacking. Perhaps it was happening elsewhere. There was less emotion that aftre the World Cup, understandable in a country that loves football. But this is France, and with an 85 percent turnout, you’d think politics was king.
As I zipped past the tramp asleep over the metro air vent, I wondered whether he is aware he has a new president, And whether he cares. And whether it will make a difference to him.