Monday, February 20, 2012

Needy Nicolas Sarkozy looks to the upper class to get re-elected

The French president has said he is going for posh, not brash, in this election, writes Anne-Elisabeth Moutet.
Needy Nicolas looks to the upper class; Sarkozy is running for office again, despite low opinion poll ratings; Reuters
Sarkozy is running for office again, despite low opinion poll ratings Photo: Reuters

Once, as he blithely launched into his first presidential campaign five years past, Nicolas Sarkozy made a point of staffing his team with the kind of faces few were used to in the arch-homogeneous French political world. (Think white, middle-class, middle-aged, usually male, graduated from two or three elite institutions, unbearably smarmy.) Out the conservative candidate went to the country’s banlieues and tough estates, plucking French-Arab and African community organisers and entrepreneurs to help blur his Rightist image. For his spokesperson, Sarkozy picked Rachida Dati, a combative mid-level judge born of a Moroccan father and Algerian mother, who became a star, then – as the new face of diverse France – justice minister, featuring on magazine covers in Dior and Louboutin heels.

As it turned out, the hirings soon soured on Sarkozy, or he soured on them. The president has just announced he is going for posh, not brash this time. His campaign spokesperson is the arch-establishment Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, the 38-year-old minister for environment, grand-daughter of a former ambassador to the US and descended from a general who fought with George Washington.

NKM, as she is known, cultivates a pre-Raphaelite beauty – diaphanous skin, long red hair, large blue eyes – with the blunt expressions of someone who chose to do national service in the French Navy. Her style is about as far from Rachida Dati’s conventional haute-bling as possible – NKM mixes arcane Japanese designers with white silk shirts, a family signet ring with artist-designed chokers. NKM is a hard worker and a canny communicator – she has by far the most Twitter followers of the cabinet, at 110,000. She has been known to stand up to Sarkozy – at one stage he demoted her to junior minister to the digital economy, seen as the graveyard shift. She fulfils the almost impossible equation of pleasing both the traditional Right, where the president’s pollsters think that there are enough votes to claw back from the dismal figures, and the Bobos, the affluent liberal voters seduced by the Greens and the more modern wing of the Socialist party.

What she isn’t, though, is well-liked among her own. She is seen, not without cause, as no team player. The youth employment minister, Nadine Morano, the John Prescott of the cabinet, a lorry-driver’s daughter competing for the spokeswoman job, sees NKM as a personal enemy. Not a single one of the MPs in NKM’s constituency call her an ally. They recall bitterly that as minister she used up all her subsidies budget for the one train line that reached her town, leaving not a centime for the other branch line.

If Sarkozy scrapes by for a second term on May 6, NKM is well-placed for a major ministry, possibly even for the PM’s job. She obviously feels that it is worth ruffling a few feathers.

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I am now (sort of) famous on Twitter, after Sarah Brown elle-même retweeted my last Telegraph piece on the Merkozy duo. Obviously she felt calling Angela Merkel “Sarko’s latest arm candy” was offensive to women everywhere. I would have thought seeing Sarkozy start his presidency flaunting, as a PR stunt, a Prada-dressed trophy wife on his arm and ending it with the leader of Europe’s most powerful country at his side signalled a realigned sense of priorities. Never mind, I’m enjoying all the nice new followers.

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They used to call it Tinseltown, but it may become Glittertown now that the statuesque Nadja Swarovski, of the crystal dynasty, has set up a production company to put out a new Hollywood version of Romeo and Juliet, scripted by Julian Fellowes. No doubt we’ll finally get to know why the Capulets wouldn’t let Juliet marry Romeo. Too nouveau? Fish knives and cruet holders at the Montague dinners?

© Telegraph Media Group & Anne-Elisabeth Moutet, 2012

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