The Blog

Rain Has 'Saved France'

I was having a drink with a Socialist the other night (it's something that can easily happen in Paris), and naturally we got on to the subject of water.

Not only has the stuff been pouring out of the sky recently, it has been charging along the Seine, spreading its water wings to cover riverside roads, flood Métro stations and send the curators of the Louvre into panic as (not for the first time) they realize that storing priceless works of art in basements right next to a flood-prone river is not a great idea.

The downfall was so heavy and persistent that I felt the need to relieve the pressure by indulging in a few of the wettest visual puns ever. Readers of a sturdy nature might like to check out my collages of a "Notre Dam" and an "Ark de Triomphe". Maybe best to avoid the "Eiffel Towel", though.

But my Socialist drinking companion thought all this rain was an excellent thing. He was all in favour of a bit of flooding, as long as the water didn't encroach on the Assemblée Nationale, the parliament building near the Seine.

"This rain has saved us," he said, making a praying movement with his hands, as though thanking the deity he didn't believe in.

By "us", he meant the Socialists, of course, not Parisians in general, who have had to put up with public transport disruption, extra traffic jams and electricity cuts because of the flooding.

He explained that the media coverage of khaki-coloured water storming the river's ramparts was a perfect distraction from the social chaos that had reigned before it rained.

Until the storms began, he said, the TV news was nothing but picket lines and demonstrations, railway platforms and airports crammed with stranded travellers, inflammatory speeches and burning police cars. The Socialist government was being battered into a corner by the unions.

Even the sudden revelation that a high-profile politician had been sexually harassing his colleagues didn't distract people from the lack of government going on.

Then out of the sky came salvation. The strikes are still happening, but with less intensity, and the spirit of general dissent has been washed away. The Place de la République, which was squatted every night by demonstrators and general noise-makers while the weather was good, has been cleared. Protest marches and picket lines attract far fewer activists. The siege spirit has been broken.

The basic cause of the unrest is still there. This is the new employment law named after the Ministre du Travail, Myriam El Khomri, that is being touted as modern slavery by the unions, mainly because it contains a clause that would give extra power to employees and locally-elected union officials, taking it away from the big national union policy-makers.

The rioting we have seen is (according to my Socialist friend) a last-ditch fight by the leaders of a big union to hang on to their influence, and the rain has waterlogged their campaign. Like Napoleon before Waterloo, they were just getting their big cannons into place when the heavens opened and halted their momentum.

I asked whether the left-wingers in parliament weren't depressed about all this, and was surprised when he said no, they were feeling in buoyant mood - and for a very British reason.

With the latest British polls indicating more support for Brexit, and the likelihood that a couple of inflatables washed up on an English beach could push the vote once and for all towards "au revoir, Europe", the French far left is rubbing its hands.

With Britain out, they feel that France will be able to put an end to the capitalistic, single-market nonsense that the Brits are so fond of. Without the UK, they will be able to campaign for even stricter labour laws and - crucially - more French protectionism so that France's unprofitable industries can charge what they like for their products, and thereby save French jobs.

Britain, it seems, is viewed by some in France as a sort of jammed rudder, keeping the ship sailing on a straight course when they want to veer to port.

Or starboard - because my Socialist friend said that the French extreme right is also preparing its speeches for the morning of June 24.

If Brexit happens, the far-right will apparently start Brit-bashing, Europe-bashing, government-bashing, telling the French electorate that conventional politics doesn't work and setting up their candidate (who always remains nameless in anything I write) as a credible president in the 2017 elections.

Suddenly I was wishing for a very localized flood on, say June 21, that would trash the depot where the referendum ballot papers are being held, hurting no one but postponing the Leave-Remain vote until people could be bothered to organize another one, which, given the shameful level of debate this time round, would probably be never.

Let's just hope the rain gods haven't used up all their water supplies on Paris.

Stephen Clarke's latest novel is Merde in Europe, in which an Englishman goes to work in Brussels and stirs up a lot of guess-what.