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Was David Cameron’s Diplomatic Faux-Pas With France Worth It?

On Sunday 22 March, David Cameron wrote in the Sunday Times an article entitled “Labour will make us as bad as France“.

Why thank you David, much obliged. As a French national I personally do not take offense though, for two reasons. First, this is clearly a political statement to rally votes of fellow (slightly nationalistic) british voters and from an outsider’s point of view it should be taken as such; the fact that it is provoking the historical archrivals o’er the sea is the icing on the cake really, but it also carries political value. Secondly, well let’s be honest here for a minute, the election of François Hollande back in 2012 was never hailed as the new hope for a quick and painless economic recovery, some might say with reason. Nevertheless, from a communications point of view, were these declarations a mistake?

This opinion article reveals a few things. First of all, the closer we get to the election, the more desperate both major parties will act in order to gather the extra votes that are increasingly necessary to shift the balance. Cameron’s message shows that the time for bold (and seemingly provocative) statements has come and that he will be allowing himself to take more risks in the coming weeks, because whichever way you put it it seldom is a great idea to diss your neighbours and economic partners. However, with this declaration he calls out to a segment of UKIP’s voters that may (and have yet to) be swayed in his favour. After all, at this stage, it is about rallying votes of people who are on the fence. We have seen over the past few weeks that this election is already deemed as one of the most indecisive in history, so now may be the time for dirty tricks. George Osborne, in his budget speech at Westminster, had already been using comparisons with France to point out the fact that on many economic factors Britain was doing well, so it seems this has somehow become a Tories’ hobby-horse.

“Fair enough” one might say, it is after all only a means to an end. Unfortunately though, the statement is already making the rounds in France, with many of the most influential media either pointing out or taking offense at the remark. Understandable, certainly. British media on the other hand are less enthusiastic (perhaps bashing the French has become a bit of a given throughout the past few centuries) and the details are harder to find as it seems it is now being swept down under the carpet with Cameron’s latest declaration that he would not go for a third mandate. On Twitter though, there were reactions aplenty, from both sides of the Channel.

Twitter Mentions Graph

Data gathered through Visibrain

It is one thing for Osborne to criticise France within the relative confinement of Westminster, but it is quite another for the leader of a nation to do so publicly. And therein lies the problem: David Cameron has acted as a party leader, not a head of state. I am not convinced this sends the right message for the upcoming elections. At the end of the day, this particular statement might go unnoticed by his target audience, but it certainly has made waves over the Channel.