Europe

Sarkozy, rhubarb and France's National Front

Rhubarb, Nicolas Sarkozy and lettuce Image copyright BBC/EPA
Image caption Mr Sarkozy used the rhubarb analogy to explain that parties could not do mutual favours

In the olden days of Nicolas Sarkozy's French presidency, much fun was to be had irreverently pointing out his tics and verbal idiosyncracies.

Now he is mere leader of the opposition, the chance comes less frequently - but Monday night offered up a humdinger.

In full flow with France Television's star interviewer David Pujadas, Sarko delivered this pearl: "Just because I get the salad, doesn't mean I pass the rhubarb."

The context was the aftermath of the regional first-round elections on Sunday, which by giving the far right such a huge score poses the problem for the two main parties of how best to react.

Should Sarko's Republicans and President Francois Hollande's Socialists stand and fight in each of the 13 regions?

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The risk is that by doing so they would split the anti-FN vote, and thus increase the National Front's chances of victory.

Or, should one of them withdraw in each region - thus allowing all anti-FNers to concentrate the vote?

This is what the Socialists have agreed to do in the two regions where the FN is best-placed (and they - the Socialists - came a rotten third).

The withdrawal poses a serious challenge to Marine Le Pen's hopes of becoming regional president in the north, as well as to Marion Marechal-Le Pen in the south, because now Socialists can vote for the centre-right candidate.

But Mr Sarkozy is refusing to make any such arrangement.

His argument is that by stitching up the regions with the Socialists (you stand here, we stand there), the two parties would be playing straight into the FN's hands.

Image copyright Twitter
Image caption This tweet summed up the social media buzz: "The entire country has been asking since last night: what did Nicolas Sarkozy really mean by 'Just because I get the salad, doesn't mean I pass the rhubarb'?"
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Marion Marechal-Le Pen (L) is eyeing victory in the south-east while her aunt is hoping to win in the north-west

They would be displaying exactly the kind of chumminess at the top that the far right constantly denounces.

As Nicolas Sarkozy said, political parties cannot go round giving each other mutual favours.

Or put another way: "Just because I get the salad, doesn't mean I pass the rhubarb."

Except he got it wrong.

The real French expression is: Pass me the rhubarb, and I'll pass you the senna.

Why senna? Well like rhubarb, senna is a natural laxative. The proverb means, I'll do you a service, if you do a similar one back. In this case, by curing our common constipation.

Mr Sarkozy was confusing his salad with his senna pods.

A sign of verbal diarrhoea?

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