Sunday, 16 August 2009

Let's Try The French Way...

Let's try it the French way...

It is in the nature of all politicians to give hostages to fortune. So we can't really hold it against Brian Lenihan that he once, by his own account, deputising for Brian Cowen, went to Brussels and said: "Nous cherchons le soft landing."

There is a scene in True Confessions (the film from John Gregory Dunne's novel) where seedy New York cop Robert Duvall raids a whorehouse, and one prostitute, in an effort to save her own skin, squeals: "Hey officer, not me. I do awful good French."

As we try to drag our bruised bottoms up off the cold, hard landing, we may yet be grateful that our Finance Minister does awful good French. The French, you see, have turned it around (no joke intended). Along with the Germans, their economy grew between April and June, while ours plummeted into an abyss. And there was nothing laissez-faire about it either.

They began with the same problems as the rest of us. They had negative growth, they had bad banks and bad bankers.

How come hope now springs eternal in their hearts, while we are looking at a winter of discontent? For an answer, simply cherchez la femme.

The French finance minister, stunning platinum blonde Christine Lagarde, was on Newsnight on Thursday night. Did this belle du jour drown us in economic jargon? Non. If she said common sense once, she said it 10 times.

And in France that common sense comes down to what we call consumer confidence. As with the Americans, who believe that retail is the key to kick- starting the economy, retail -- in all its forms -- is a love affair with them.

Consumer confidence lost is like trust lost in a marriage. What was once viewed with innocent optimism can only be viewed, post-betrayal, with guarded suspicion and fear. Distrustful Irish people are afraid to spend.

Despite their reputation for love in the afternoon, the French take care of their relationships. If things are sluggish, they will try anything from Lapin Provencale to the Rampant Lapin. They know the importance of stimulation. So without dancing on the head of a pin, they dropped Vat in restaurants from 19 per cent to 5 per cent; they made a special case of their auto industry; and they cut the crap with the banking system.

'Detox' the banks became their mot juste. They refused to incentivise bad risk-takers; they hammered home the point that the taxpayer was lending to the banks and they had better respect it.

How different from our own dear queens at home, who relentlessly and methodically set about betraying the retail industry with punitive Vat rates and levies. And what's worse, having acknowledged the error of their ways, refused to rectify matters.

If Brian Lenihan doesn't take note soon, he may find that apres him, le deluge.

Report by Anne Harris - Sunsay Independent

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