Blair, the charming Brit in sarkozyst France

Article published on Jan. 28, 2008
Article published on Jan. 28, 2008
Tony Blair recently gave his support to UMP leaders in the context of the French municipal elections. Making skilfully use of humour as tool of political communication, has the ex-Prime minister given a comedy lesson to our « energetic » president?

How to cheer up an assembly of prominent UMP officials and supporters engaged for the municipal election battle (the stakes are naturally of a local dimension, any similarity between this congress and the former sarko-superstar rallies held at the time of the presidential election is purely coincidental)?

Tony, always ready for a laugh

Answer : bring Tony, the English cousin, always eager to have a good laugh and willing to amuse the guests. The former « Cool Britannia » Prime minister has not lost his wit nor his ease. After having reminded the audience that he was Labour in England, he added in French with a subtle accent that in France he would probably be “ …in the government.” Hilarity ensued. Of course, do not be afraid, Tony made a point of reassuring the crowd that he would of course be in the Socialist Party (PS) “alongside people working on its renovation.” The joke has probably amused PS circles a lot especially as Tony royally snubbed them during his French escapade. One can understand him though; he is not particularly loved in the French left.

Who cares? The former resident of 10 Downing Street had indeed started to charm his audience. This is why he dared to breach further the code of conduct of right-wing meetings. He has congratulated the president for being “energetic (note: here Tony Blair mistaken the word energetique for energique, not used in the same context, he has used a word more commonly used to describe power stations) on every level”. Sarkozy laughed so much that he could barely bring his jaw back to its normal position; even Bigard visiting Benoît XIV was not as funny(note: Bigard is a popular French stand up comedian, not known for being very subtle).

The many virtues of political humour applied with different styles

The comedy moments offered by Blair can teach us a lot. They show, no matter what sceptics believe, that humour is very useful as a communication tool to make people swallow the bitterest pills. Here, a leader of the new European left acts like an old friend with a right wing president preaching a controversial Policy of left openness.

It is interesting to compare the English performance with the never-ending press conference Nicolas Sarkozy has held just a day before. The president tried to apply the same tricks as humour may appease the masses especially when they are depressed. There is only one problem: when Sarko makes a joke, eyebrows are raised. To a journalist asking him about Carla Bruni he answered, “I am surprised that you have waited for the second question”. To Laurent Joffrin (chief editor of the left wing paper Libération) who was worried of “an elected monarchy running adrift”, he replied: “we live in the society of sustainable development, so please update your theories.” Sarkozy uses humour as a way to destabilise his opponents, trying to bring them to silence in order to show that he is the one establishing the rules. The same strategy was at play during the presidential election; the candidate attacked his opponents through carefully selected (good) words.

Blair, on the other hand handles typically British humour. One touch here and there, and even clumsily (was the mistake on énergétique planned ?), he showed the absurdity of the political circus and made a discrete reference to the private life of the president. This strategy is more based on charm and results in massive crowd support (even though one could argue they were already on his side).

Blair, winner of the improvisation match

In the game of political communication through humour, the Brit has shown his superiority. Tact and subtlety are better than murder-like soundbites and overt contempt. Is it also worthy to mention Sarko’s self satisfied grin every time he gratifies us of a joke, slightly less nice to Watch than Blair’s Gyro Geerlose-styled lost gaze.

Let give credit to Sarkozy though, we can still remain very careful when he tries to trick us. Blair has probably engaged in a lot of sneaky business by the back door with his malicious smile…