It looks like France may start on a course towards becoming a nation endowed with Testicular Fortitude again!
Sarkosy gets my thumbs up!
Vive les Nouvelles Gonads Francais
(edited for my lousy French)
ANdySarkozy shows Conservatives the right way to win power
By Simon Heffer
Last week saw a great advance in the campaign by Europe's most exciting politician, Nicolas Sarkozy, to become Europe's most exciting leader. The French interior minister announced a plan called immigration choisie, which, as the name suggests, would lead to a more rigid selection of immigrants.
Sounding rather like the Australian system, this plan would end automatic reuniting of families by allowing immigrants to enter France to live with relations already there: M Sarkozy knows that families can, after all, be reunited in more than one way.
It would also allow France to choose immigrants according to what the French economy actually needs - which might even give a lifeline to the much-maligned plombier polonais.
M Sarkozy's announcement was greeted with a mixture of annoyance and rapture. The annoyance came from colleagues in the ruling UMP, who see him playing a populist card to secure the party's nomination for next year's presidential election and, then, to secure the Elysée Palace itself.
It was shared with politicians of other parties, such as the Socialist party, which likes to smell racism wherever it can, and the Front National, which sees
M Sarkozy as a man sent by the devil to drive down its vote.
The rapture, though, was shared widely among the French people, who feel utterly betrayed by their rulers on immigration, and who showed that feeling at the 2002 election by putting the FN leader Jean-Marie Le Pen in the run-off with Jacques Chirac.
Now, at last, they feel they have a mainstream politician who will articulate and respond to their fears, and who will speak for France.
For M Sarkozy, like Charles de Gaulle before him, has a certain idea of France. He is the child of Hungarian immigrants, and has entered the French political establishment (and learnt to manipulate it) without ever being forced to conform with it.
His main rival for the nomination within his party is the current prime minister, the languid part-time poet and homme du monde Dominique de Villepin.
M de Villepin is the creature of M Chirac, who hates M Sarkozy with a venom probably not felt among Frenchmen since scores were settled in another context in the summer of 1944.
M de Villepin is the polar opposite of M Sarkozy, espousing as he does all the "liberal conservative", socially and economically turgid philosophies one would expect of a French aristocrat who has never been elected to anything in his life: he used to be M Chirac's man of business, and his place as prime minister he owes solely to presidential patronage.
By contrast, M Sarkozy knows how to excite a crowd and turn out a vote. He began, like other modern distinguished French statesmen, as a mayor. He now sits in the National Assembly.
This is his second stint as interior minister. He first came to attention on this side of the Channel when David Blunkett used to trek over to Sangatte to discuss with him over the moules frites whether there was anything he might do to prevent quite so many illegal immigrants escaping to Britain.
Mr Blunkett was impressed by M Sarkozy, which is a tribute to the latter's persuasiveness and charm: for nothing much happened to stop the illegals at Sangatte, and nor did M Sarkozy (who, let us not forget, has that certain idea of France) especially want it to.
He then became finance minister. It was in this post that the loathing between M Chirac and himself began to seep out in public. Before 1995, M Sarkozy was on the Chirac team, and was close to M Chirac's daughter.
He then made a rare miscalculation, and one whose consequences he has had to fight for the past 11 years: he chose to back M Chirac's rival, Edouard Balladur, for the crown. When M Balladur lost, M Sarkozy gave M Chirac a second reason to be angry with him: he set about building a powerbase and a constituency so strong that however much M Chirac might hate him, he could not ignore him.
M Chirac, who at 74 is nearly a quarter-century older than the young pretender, has an idea of France very similar to de Gaulle's: that social unity is the aim to be pursued at all times, whatever the economic cost.
He is old enough to recall the deep wounds in France after Vichy, collaboration and liberation, and it colours his political view now. This is the line taken by his prime minister. It is rubbished by M Sarkozy, and he has been rubbishing it ever since he entered the French treasury.
When he was finance minister he made a point of attacking the French social model, saying (quite correctly) that its high levels of regulation and taxation were driving up costs and driving down employment. This was heretical to M Chirac and his acolytes.
Sensing that he had a certain amount of party support for this line - and here there is a parallel with the way Margaret Thatcher and Keith Joseph sought to change the thinking of a paternalist Tory party in the late 1970s - he decided to stand for the party's chairmanship.
To M Chirac's horror, he proved unstoppable. The President had his revenge by forcing M Sarkozy to choose between the finance ministry and the chairmanship. Shrewdly, M Sarkozy chose the latter. This ensured that he had little to do with the imminent debacle of the administration of
M de Villepin's predecessor, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, which culminated in M Chirac's defeat in last May's referendum on the EU constitution. After M Raffarin's dismissal, M Sarkozy had to come back inside the tent.
And, since he returned, he has behaved like a force of nature within a political elite that too often seems ossified both in terms of ideas and strategy. Whereas M de Villepin shows hauteur and restraint, M Sarkozy tells anyone who will listen that he wants to be the next president of France, and that he will reform and transform France from the sclerotic, cartelised and over-regulated failing state it has become.
He promises to restore the self-confidence of the French people, who (as even M Chirac admits) spend too much time these days beating themselves up - or engaging in what the President calls "auto-flagellation". Above all, he promises to defend that certain idea of France.
During the urban riots last autumn, most centre-Right politicians deplored the actions of the rioters and hinted at their ingratitude towards a state that had welcomed them and offered them a meal ticket. M Sarkozy had no time for such waffle. He simply called them racaille, or scum.
His colleagues winced. Even the Right-wing press feared he had gone too far. But he is now the favourite for the UMP nomination, 20 points ahead of M de Villepin. The polls say he would even beat the new pin-up girl of the Left, Ségolène Royal, in a run off for the Elysée.
Meanwhile, the interior minister compounds his popularity with regular, high-profile deportations of criminals, rioters and mad mullahs who turn out to be in France illegally. And he takes every opportunity to point out that he is far from finished yet.
His success - or lack of it - would have great consequences for France and for Europe. There might also be a lesson for our own troubled Conservative Party, which has deliberately avoided Sarkozy-style plain-speaking for fear of appearing "nasty".
I am not aware of any pronouncement David Cameron has made about the shocking protests in London, 10 days ago, calling for beheadings and executions. His economic policy consists of maintaining Labour's.
M Sarkozy has showed an appetite in France for something more confrontational. Should he be elected, he will set a compelling tone for a new European conservatism. It would be sad if we were left behind.