The first round of local elections in France took place last Sunday, March 24, 2014.
The second round takes place this coming Sunday, March 30.
The PS (Socialist) and UMP (Conservative) candidates for mayor of Paris — Anne Hidalgo and Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet (NKM), respectively — faced off last night in a debate co-sponsored by the digital channel iTele and RTL radio.
The former TF1 newsreader Laurence Ferrari and current affairs presenter Marc-Olivier Fogiel moderated. Ferrari now fronts shows for D8. Fogiel hosts a two-hour news analysis weekdays on RTL. He has also worked in television.
Paris has been in decline thanks to the outgoing Socialist mayor, Bertrand Delanoë, who took office in 2001. The city has become progressively dirtier and more crime-ridden since then. Oh, for the days when Jacques Chirac and Jean Tiberi served in that post.
It is also increasingly a city of haves and have-nots. The middle class can no longer afford to live in town.
On Sunday, NKM squeaked by with a 1.2% lead over Hidalgo. However, most Parisian arrondissements lean left, with those in the western half of the capital favouring the UMP and the other half voting Socialist.
NKM was Nicolas Sarkozy’s environment minister. She currently serves as MP for a district in Essonne and as mayor of Longjumeau, south of Paris. She has served as an MP since 2002 and mayor since 2008. She is a graduate of the Ecole Polytechnique and the College des Ingénieurs. Her centrist politics are a mix of Green environmental policies and economic conservatism.
Hidalgo worked as a political and social policy adviser prior to becoming the first deputy mayor of Paris under Delanoë. She stood down from that post in 2011.
The mayoral debate was a unique opportunity to hear two women candidates discuss the issues facing Paris and propose their solutions.
Unfortunately, words can barely do justice to this hour-long, early-evening horrorshow.
The only good thing about it was watching three very pretty European women. If you’ve ever seen her on TF1, Ferrari must still qualify as the world’s most beautiful newsreader.
That said, pretty is as pretty does.
Hidalgo was given the opening statement and the first question to answer. The studio was quiet whilst she spoke.
Then it was NKM’s turn to respond. Almost immediately, Hidalgo started talking over her in a low yet clearly audible murmur. Soon, her voice got louder. Calling NKM by her full name every minute was particularly distracting.
Normally, such infraction of debate rules would have incurred a sharp reminder from one or both of the moderators. Not in this instance. A smiling Ferrari perched in her chair like a media queen, clearly enjoying this swift verbal KO of NKM. Fogiel was also silent, as if nothing untoward was happening.
NKM held her composure and was gracious throughout. Not only could she not make her points without Hidalgo calling her ‘a liar’ or accusing her of ‘misunderstanding’ the issues. She also had to contend with the moderators badgering her with, ‘You haven’t stated your position. What are your proposals? We’ve asked you a question. Answer the question.’
However, it was such a shambles that I wanted to find out if the moderators would silence Hidalgo. They didn’t. This gave the listener the impression, rightly or wrongly, that they had no objection to her bullying.
At 29 minutes in, NKM — who had, up to that point, remained quiet whilst her opponent was talking — started speaking over Hidalgo during one of the Socialist’s answers.
Hidalgo raised her voice to counter this. NKM continued.
There were several times when everyone was talking simultaneously.
Talk about cacophony. Check the aforementioned links out and go a few minutes into any of the videos. You’ll hear what I mean. You’ll also be astonished at the moderators, both seasoned journalists.
With a little less than a half-hour to go, Fogiel finally stepped in, feebly asking the candidates to respond one at a time. He reminded them that commuters were listening to the broadcast on radio and were likely to have an accident.
Nothing changed. Ferrari sat mute, smiling approvingly at Hidalgo.
Fogiel interrupted the mayoral candidates once again near the end of the debate, having received a message in his earpiece from the production team. His request to get them to talk in turn had little effect.
Even at the end, NKM was unable to make her closing statement without another interruption from Hidalgo.
This must have been the worst political debate ever.
It was a new low for politicians and, regrettably, a new low for women.
Hidalgo’s debating tactics, combined with abrupt hand gestures, were incivil and hostile. You can imagine that if NKM had tried this out — which she wouldn’t have — Ferrari and Fogiel would have given her a verbal slap. But, as long as it was the Socialist attacking, everything was fine.
No one listening will remember the women’s policies. They will remember an absolute shower, one of the noisiest hours in television history. Ferrari and Fogiel should both hang their heads in shame. But I doubt they will.
It would be nice to think that the takeaway for Parisians is hearing just how nasty a Socialist can be. That, too, is doubtful.
NKM, unlike Hidalgo, wants to encourage more middle-class suburbanites to move back into Paris. She plans on lowering municipal taxes and offering tax breaks to small businesses.
Unfortunately, her vision for what used to be a sparkling capital city is increasingly unlikely to become reality.
We can but see come Sunday.
I recall during the 2010 general election in the UK when a number of young bloggers thought the classic political debate was much too polite.
The French mayoral debate illustrated the necessity of maintaing such rules and decorum.