When the French lose at anything, be it sports or war, it’s never because their opponent was better. It’s because they’ve been betrayed – nous sommes trahis is how they put it, in the Gallic equivalent to our ‘we wus robbed’.
In that spirit, French commentators have to ascribe the thrashing their cyclists get at the hands of the British to some dastardly cheating, or else unsporting technology. Whatever the sport, when a Frenchman loses, French commentators describe it as a ‘tragedy’. They then go into a lengthy and totally irrelevant panegyric of the loser’s sterling human qualities. He’s a nice young man who lights up every room he’s in, who works his cul off in a perfectly disinterested way, who gives his very best for the cause. The poor man is known for the charitable way in which he treats the poor, the crippled and, presumably, his opponents, who then turn around and stab him in the back. Nous sommes trahis all over again.
In short, the French are sore losers, vindicating the American maxim ‘show me a good loser, and I’ll show you a loser.’ I’d paraphrase it to say ‘show me someone who wins or loses with equal grace, and I’ll show you a gentleman’, but this terribly outdated sentiment is neither French nor American. Nor is it really British any longer, come to think of that.
Anyway, this is all rather innocuous stuff. The nonsense perpetrated by columnists on either side of the Channel is much worse. For example, writing belatedly about the opening ceremony, the Figaro columnist Alexandre Adler first proved that there is such a thing as French conservatism, and then proved that there isn’t. (I’m talking about mainstream publications here. The French do have a conservative magazine called Nouvelles de France. Its editor is blessed with impeccable taste and deep understanding of conservatism, as witnessed by the fact that he put my grinning face on the cover of the current issue.)
According to Monsieur Adler, the opening ceremony was ‘testimony to British decadence’, a representation of the values of ‘organised proletariat’, or rather those of the ‘lower middle class entirely lacking in spirit’, complete with a ‘sub-Marxist vision of the Industrial Revolution’ and a ‘resuscitation of British communist views from the 1960s’. So far so good, all perfectly true.
But then Adler had to go and spoil it all by suggesting that instead we ought to have celebrated the ‘quiet heroism of the British aristocratic and proletarian volunteers in the Spanish Civil War.’ Those chaps, about 20,000 of them, tried, in their quietly heroic way, to deliver Spain to Stalin, which would have turned the country into a sort of Iberian Romania. A conservative would instead extol the dozen British volunteers for the other side, such as Peter Kemp, who joined the Carlists to keep Spain Spanish for the next 50 years. To make matters worse, Adler than cites Britain’s imperial past and its present of ‘turning its back on Europe’. If you don’t know the difference between Europe and the euro, Monsieur, you should look for a different line of work.
If you think this is bad, read what our Tory columnists are writing. Boris Johnson’s Telegraph column the other day showed that, Eton or no Eton, the Tories can do vulgar with the worst of them. Replete with exclamation points and laddish gasps, Boris’s article gives 20 reasons to be jubilant about this tawdry spectacle. The only convincing argument is the one he doesn’t enunciate, but rather demonstrates: politicians shouldn’t be columnists, and columnists shouldn’t be politicians. The conflict of interest is too blatant: there are too many things they can’t write for fear of letting their political side down and thereby jeopardising their cherished careers. One of the few columnists I respect once said to me that he sees his job as tossing bricks through windows. Boris has to see his as window dressing.
And he isn’t the only one. Writing for the same paper, Daniel Hannan, another pundit cum politician, says that Boris ‘is having an utterly splendid Olympics’. My impression was that Boris wasn’t competing in any of the events, but then of course this impression is wrong. Boris is competing in the race to be the next Tory leader, and I’d say he has made the semi-finals. Perhaps that’s what Mr Hannan, MEP, meant.
He then came up with a proposition that ought to earn him an honorary gold medal in verbal gymnastics. All those Union flags adorning so many windows are to him proof that ‘the Olympics are a victory for patriotism and common British values.’ These values are very common indeed. Mr Hannan in general tends to confuse patriotism with chauvinism, either of them with nationalism and all of them with tribalism. London 2012 has brought this confusion into focus: what he’s extolling has nothing to do with true patriotism. It’s nearer the sentiment displayed by a football lout wearing Union Jack shorts, a T-shirt saying ‘two World Wars, one World Cup, so f*** off’, and screaming ‘if it wasn’t for Ingerland, you’d all be krauts’ at the visiting fans.
Boris, according to Daniel, is playing a blinder because he declared that ‘kids around the country are seeing that the more you put in, the more you get out — which is a wonderful Conservative lesson in life.’ A better Conservative lesson would be to eschew ‘kids’ in favour of ‘children’. As to the ‘kids’ needing the Olympics to realise that it takes a lot of training to run fast, this may suggest that they’re retarded to begin with, and therefore unlikely to benefit from this lesson. Nor is it conservative to devote one’s life to achieving something as useless and trivial as sporting success.
Down, boys, down, would be my advice to our politico-pundits. Save your effusive enthusiasm for worthier causes.