For the last three weeks, France has been embroiled in a series of strikes and protests. They were originally sparked by the announcement that President Macron’s Government was planning to raise fuel prices, but have since grown to express the general dissatisfaction with Macron’s performance – a recent YouGov poll suggested as many as 78% disapprove of his leadership so far. As a symbol of the origins of the movement in the automotive industry, the protesters have taken to wearing the hi-vis yellow jackets that all vehicles in France are required to carry by law – a health and safety official’s dream! Despite the Government letter dropping the proposed fuel-price hike the protests have only increased, spreading across the country and, despite having no clear leadership, issuing over 40 demands, including a minimum pension, drastic changes to the tax system, and a reduction in the retirement age. A movement with no apparent leadership attempting to change the position of an out of touch government? In this country we call it the Labour Party.
The ferocity of last weekend’s protests in Paris shocked the nation, with cars burnt out and buildings along the Champs-Élysées vandalised. French authorities are preparing for worse this weekend and have plans to shut major Paris tourist attractions including the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe, as well as the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, and Opera Garnier. We’re not quite at the level of barricades in the streets yet, but news footage from France is starting to look strikingly similar to the trailers for the BBC’s new production of Les Misérables.
At the current Anglo-Saxon exhibition at the British Library this week, my eye was drawn to a quote on the wall – “things have not gone well for a long time now.” It comes from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle but could equally well have been written by Teresa May. This week she opened five days of debate on her proposed Brexit deal in Parliament. On Tuesday MPs will have a final vote on whether to accept it, though all indications still suggests that it will be thrown out by a large margin – in fact the Government have rather embarrassingly lost every amendment vote this week. Mrs May, however, is carrying on as if there are no storm clouds on the horizon and is refusing to give any indication of what will happen if (or more likely, when) she loses this vote. There’s a fine line between optimism and delusion. With all this talk of a deal or no deal maybe its time to make Noel Edmonds PM? Anyone for Mr Blobby as Foreign Secretary, or would he be too easily confused with Boris Johnson?
We began the week with the news that before Tuesday’s Commons vote there would be a TV debate between your friendly, neighbourhood jam maker, Jeremy Corbyn, and the beleaguered Prime Minister. It soon became clear, however, that neither could agree on which channel to host it, the Conservatives preferring the BBC and Labour wanting it on ITV. Interesting that it was the Conservative Party supporting the nationally owned, publicly funded broadcaster and the Labour party favouring the private, commercial, payed-for-by-advertising channel – quite the role reversal. Anyway, this argument went on so long that now both channels have withdrawn their invitations to host the debate – probably because a debate between two people who agree that we should leave the EU and on how we should leave it does not make great prime-time viewing.
In more local news, a familiar face around the Courtauld was announced as the new host for the BBC’s Question Time. Fiona Bruce, well known for presenting BBC News, Antiques Roadshow, and, alongside Philip Mould, the investigative art programme Fake or Fortune – explaining her frequent presence at Somerset House. The show’s host of 24 years, the national treasure, David Dimbleby will be stepping aside at the end of the year, leaving his seat open for Bruce to take the reins. It is unknown if she will continue with Fake or Fortune as well.
Next week – the result of Parliament’s vote on Brexit and what it means.