3 MAY 2008, Page 28

Gordon can barely speak English either, so why don’t we swap him for Sarkozy?

Say what you like about Nicolas Sarkozy, but he’s a feisty little tyke, isn’t he? Apparently, he put himself through an hour-long grilling on French TV last week. We’ve got our issues with the strange angry man in Downing Street, but the French, they loathe Sarkozy. According to the blogs, he bore up pretty well. At one point, he responded to calls for a new dialogue with the Taleban. ‘Open a dialogue?’ he said. ‘With people who amputate the hand of a woman because she had varnish on her nails? Who have stopped millions of little girls from going to school? Who brought down Buddhas with hundreds of years of history? Who stone a so-called adulterous woman? I don’t think we have a lot to say.’ This is strong stuff. You may think he’s dead wrong. You may suspect that, as a Frenchman, he’d probably still be up for selling them guns and then running away if they fired them at him. Never mind that, for the moment. Just consider the demagoguery. It verges on the Churchillian. Couldn’t we use a bit of that over here? Those Frenchies, they don’t know what they’ve got. Eloquence, conviction and a clear sense of purpose. And they hate him for it. Such a waste. We’d have him. His saucy wife, too, if only for the outfits. It’s just a shame he can’t speak English without sounding like a man reading aloud from a parachute instruction manual, while falling out of a plane. It would never work.

Or so I thought. But then, on another blog, I read about Gordon Brown, trying to explain why he scrapped the 10p tax rate. For reasons possibly only understood at the very highest levels of the Labour party, he was doing a half-hour YouTube video interview with the comedian Arabella Weir. ‘If you are on the pension credit,’ he said, ‘the pension credit is money paid to you and so it is like a negative tax, the money paid to you, so it’s a tax credit. So once we’d introduced the tax and the tax credit, the case for having a 10p rate was diminished.’ And this said with earnest passion, and with a look in his eyes like love. You see what I’m getting at, don’t you? Gordon Brown can barely speak English either. So what would we have to lose? How about a French exchange, at the highest level? We get Sarko, they get Gordo. With all his tinkering, wonking and spending, they would love him. Can he speak French? Who cares? Indeed, after the first couple of sentences, who would even notice?

Obviously, the French exchange model would need a little bit of modification. Otherwise we’d have both of them over here for a month. They’d probably get on OK for a couple of days, although Gordo might be staggered that Sarko had never seen a toaster before.

It wouldn’t last. It never does. Pretty soon they’d be jostling at the despatch box like Asterix and Obelix in suits. Eventually they would have their first full-scale, screaming interlingual argument, which would be about Iraq, or Afghanistan, or the necessity of washing with soap. This would make Gordo throw a strop, and abandon Sarko at a bus-stop halfway back from Madame Tussauds. And then they’d have to do it all over again, but this time in Paris. This would leave us with no Prime Minister at all, and we would have to watch Ed Balls, Jack Straw et al, licking their wolfish chops, like you were always afraid your friends would do over your girlfriend.

No, it would have to be a straight swap. They get ours, we get theirs. They get Gordon, bumbling drearily away about whatever half-baked statism he has decided to impose to get himself out of the hole dug by his last half-baked statism. We get Nicolas, with his brave, stirring pronouncements which we might not agree with but can at least understand. Wouldn’t that be lovely? Just like old times. Iknow, I know. There is little point in me writing about the London mayoral election. By the time you read this, quite possibly, you will already know who has won. Still, humour me. At the time of writing, I don’t even know which way to vote. Obviously, it should be Boris. There is nothing personal in that — I have never worked for him, and the few conversations we have ever had have revolved around his fervent, long-standing belief that I once had him pelted with eggs. (I didn’t.) But I’m pretty sure my beliefs are Boris beliefs, not Ken beliefs. I think crime is a problem, and I’m not that interested in Venezuela. I would never suspect Boris of cronyism, or self-righteousness, or of secretly hating me for being a Jew. Boris should be the man. And yet, I am troubled. I love London, and I fear that I love it in Ken ways, not Boris ways. I love that market smell of bananas, fish and cigarettes on a cold winter morning. I love the cultural mess, the Portuguese delis next to halal butchers. I love the congestion charge. God forgive me, but I do. I love night buses, and the bustle of drunks and sluts and madmen. I bet Ken takes night buses. I doubt Boris has for years.

So, for weeks now, I have been trying to distil what it is that I think Ken has given London, that I’m so worried that Boris might take away. And finally, I think I’ve got it, in a nutshell. It was the elephant. In May 2006, Ken gave us the Sultan’s Elephant.

Did you see the it? It was a giant puppet show, with a huge puppet elephant and a huge puppet girl. Some kind of French arts company, I seem to recall. I have never seen crowds smile so much. The police closed roads, and it blundered around London for a weekend like the benevolent folly of a tyrant run mad. Which, I suppose, was exactly what it was. It was Ken all over, and it was magical. Will you give us an elephant, Boris? Will you? It made London click into place. If this thing is going to the wire, then every vote counts. I know it’s a lot to ask, particularly with your thing about the eggs, but here’s how you can get mine. I won’t be at the ballot station until late on Thursday. Promise us an elephant. Just the one, and I’m yours.