With polling day, tomorrow, I thought I’d share the original ‘politic-fiction’ ending to my book. On a Republique Francaise plane returning from a NATO summit in Riga last November, I mulled what France wants from its next president….
A low rumbling can be heard along rue du Faubourg St Honore. Deep murmurings reach as far as the Elysee palace. The windows of Prada, Chloe and other chic boutiques have been boarded up and the valet of the Hotel Crillon has been given the day off. The road of the super-rich has been re-claimed by a raggle-taggle mob of farmers, hippies and new-age savers of the planet who fill the pavement as the tractors trundle past. The sweet but distinctive smell of marijuana fills the air.
In the courtyard of the Elysee palace, the Republican guard stand motionless, expectant. Plumes of dark horses hair arch over their shined and buffed helmets then hang down their backs. A red carpet stretches between them from the palace steps all the way down to heavy iron gates on the street. Inside, Chirac sits heavily in his favourite arm-chair, toying nervously with the nuclear button which in a few minutes he will entrust to the newly elected President of the Republic. He brushes the dust absent-mindedly off its leather cover, until an aide tugs his arm.
‘Attention Monsieur le President,’ he says.
Chirac, surprised in the middle of a deep thought, looks up and wordlessly puts the button on the table. A heavy cloud of apprehension matches the humidity in the streets outside.
Slowly, the gates of the Elysee palace are heaved open, dragging on the pebbles as if resisting an unwanted intrusion. The noise from the street becomes louder and louder. Then suddenly, it stops. There is a lull, filled only by the sound of a solo tractor manoeuvring round a tight corner into the palace courtyard. The chunky American tractor scratches the gates as it turns, before churning up the red carpet beneath its wheels. Unperturbed, the tractor grinds its way towards the steps of the Elysee palace where it stops. The cortège of tractors on the street outside remains silent and menacing.
A door opens and out from the tractor strides Jose Bove. He takes a moment to light his pipe, his walrus moustache flickering in the wind. He looks up as the Republican guard raise their instruments and launch into a rendition of the Marseillaise. He jumps down from the tractor and starts singing along to the music.
‘Debout, les damnes de la terre,’ he sings in a deep, throaty voice. Bove is not singing the French National anthem, but the Internationale, a combat song of working classes all over the world. The band continues nervously.
‘Then come comrades rally!
And the last fight let us face,’ sings Bove.
There is a long pause after he has finished. Chirac, waiting silently to greet his successor at the doors of the palace, eventually makes his way down the carpeted steps.
‘Bonjour Monsieur le President,’ he says.
Bove says nothing. He looks around at the stupefied Republican guard.
‘Come on Jacques, let’s get this over with,’ he says, taking the older man’s arm and guiding him back up the steps.
‘What do we do now?’ he asks once the two men are inside.
‘There are some things I need to tell you,’ says Chirac. ‘Top secret things. Like where France’s armed forces are active in the world, and where our secret agents are mobilized.’
‘I am against war,’ said Bove. ‘Tell me where there is fighting and I will put a stop to it.’
‘But..’ says Chirac.
‘No buts,’ says Bove. ‘I am President now.’
At the end of the meeting, Chirac hands him a list of his closest collaborators whose next posting the incoming president traditionally approves.
‘What’s this?’ said Bove.
‘It’s a the list of appointments that I would like you to make.’
Bove looks down at the names. He looks up at Chirac and staring him in the eyes, he crushes the note in his hand and throws it on the floor.
‘But,’ starts Chirac.
‘Be careful,’ warns Bove. ‘Or you will be spending your last days in jail.’
Bove accompanies Chirac out on to the steps of the palace. Chirac turns to shake his hand, but Bove is already on his way back inside. Looking up at the cameras, Chirac walks slowly down the steps, across the courtyard and its crumpled red carpet, and out onto the street. There is no official car waiting to take him away. Only tractors housing hostile looking farmers.
Chirac smiles at them. They look coldly back.
‘But I fought so hard for you,’ Chirac said to a weather-hardened soul hanging out of his green wheat-cutting machine. The farmer looked at him, emotionless. ‘In the European Union, with the common agricultural policy,’ pleads Chirac. ‘At the World Trade Organisation.’ Then slowly, faltering. ‘Did none of it matter?’ The farmer looks away.
The former president of the Republic turns back towards the Republican Guard, who he is relieved to see are still standing by the palace gates.
‘Where is my car?’ he enquired. ‘I thought it would be waiting for me here.’
‘I’ll call you a taxi,’ said a sympathetic officer. ‘Your best bet is to go up to rue de la Boetie to avoid the tractors. Shall I get it to pick you up from the UMP headquarters?’
Chirac shuddered. ‘Not from there,’ he said. ‘It is ok. I will find my way.’
And with that, the seventh president of the Fifth Republic walked alone, his head held high, past the tractors. His strides were regular and calm, in contrast with the raging incomprehension buzzing inside his head. He thought his legs would give way, but somehow he made it to the only refuge he could think of. He knocked at the door of the British Embassy.
‘They didn’t even let me have a car,’ he said simply, when the door was cautiously opened a crack. The doorkeeper called the ambassador who immediately left his lodgings to greet the former president. He heaved the door open himself, and Chirac stumbled inside. The ambassador took Chirac in his arms, where the former president immediately broke down.
‘How did this happen,’ he sobbed.
It happened the day that Philippe Douste-Blazy, the joker persuaded by Chirac to run against Sarkozy, insulted the former partner of his wife, ecologist Nicolas Hulot. On the plane back from a rally in Marseilles, Douste made illusions to journalists about Hulot’s ability to satisfy a woman.
‘There are real men and then there are those who get their kicks out of hugging trees,’ Douste was widely reported to have said.
Hulot immediately aligned himself with Bove, bringing Arlette Laguiller with him to form an alternative ecological movement. The remaining candidates on the far left, Marie-George Buffet and Olivier Besancenot, crumpled after a televised slanging match over who was the best communist. Royal lost her leftist credentials after a British tabloid published photos of her locked in an embrace with Blair, supposedly tutoring her on electoral strategy. Laurent Fabius’ belated bid to supplant her failed when it was revealed he paid wealth tax and lived in a castle. On the centre-right, Francois Bayrou scored marginally more than Sarkozy and Douste who destroyed each other by leaking kinky tales of their rivals’ sexual adventures to political bloggers. As voters turned to the internet, the mainstream press was forced to break its vow of silence surrounding politicians’ private lives. National Front Leader Jean-Marie Le Pen lapped up disaffected voters propelling him into a second round run off with Bove.
Bove’s first act as president was to enable high-speed internet access in his Larzac home base, making good a regional inequality that had been driving him crazy for years. His second act was to order his farmer friends into the forests to hunt for wild boar. The animals were served on spits at a giant coronation ceremony in Bove’s village of Montredon a few days later. Bolivian Presiident Evo Morales was invited as guest of honour, together with a delegation of native Indian peasants who presented France’s new Asterix with a platter of guinea pig. Manu Chao and Zebda, the alternative rock band from Toulouse, provided the entertainment while Zapatistas from Mexico kept unwanted urban upper class Bobos out. The event was sponsored by Danone, which supplied unlimited Roquefort cheese. So great were the celebrations that Morales missed his plane home and nothing was heard from Bove for well over a week.
His third act as president was to withdraw France from the World Trade Organisation and revoke all existing trade treaties with every country except for Bolivia. Markets for Roquefort cheese evaporated overnight and even a government edict requiring citizens to consume 50 grams each per day was not enough to keep Bove’s friends in the style to which they had become accustomed. He withdrew France from the euro to allow the national bank to start printing money to keep his mates happy, sending prices spiralling out of control.
Just before everyone in France gave up hope, crackly radio broadcasts began to be picked up from across the Channel. Exiled in England, Chirac urged his citizens to resist in stirring speeches reminding France of a time when it was a great nation.
‘Whatever happens, the flame of French resistance mustn’t be extinguished and will not be extinguished,’ he said on Radio London.
He called upon Gerard Royal, an agent of the French secret services and brother of Segolene who successfully obliterated Greenpeace’s New Zealand operations, to intervene. WTO Director General Pascal Lamy arranged for Bove to be arrested on his arrival in Canada for an environmental conference. Royal led a battalion of soldiers allied with the Republican Guard, and Chirac made a final rousing speech before setting sail for France accompanied by the British navy.
Crowds lined the streets for his triumphal return to Paris, cheering as the presidential carriage made it way to the Hotel de Ville. The old warrior looked around him at the sea of people looking desperately to him for a way out of France’s impasse. He paused for a second, savouring the moment. When he took the microphone, ladies swooned in the hot August sunshine.
‘I promise not to change anything ever again,’ he said to whoops and cheers. ‘France is the greatest nation in the world. Vive la Republique! Vive la France!’