Saturday 21 Apr 2018 | 09:56 | SYDNEY
Saturday 21 Apr 2018 | 09:56 | SYDNEY

Julia Gillard's de Gaulle moment



9 July 2010 13:54

It has taken me a couple of days to realise that, so far as boat arrivals are concerned, Prime Minister Gillard is working from the Charles de Gaulle playbook. Yes, that Charles de Gaulle, French President 1959-69.

Of all the many speeches de Gaulle made over the years, none, including the rightly famous but actually little heard rallying speech from exile in London on 18 June 1940, was more striking for its immediate political effect than that which he delivered at the Forum in Algiers on 4 June 1958.

With chaos threatening in both France and Algeria, de Gaulle had travelled to Algiers where he addressed a huge crowd of both pieds noirs and Muslim Algerians. It took three minutes for the crowd to lapse into silence as de Gaulle took to the microphone. And then he uttered his famous words, 'Je vous ai compris' ('I have understood you').

The crowd, pieds noirs and Muslim Algerians alike, went wild, cheering de Gaulle as if he had, in some Delphic fashion, answered their disparate prayers.

Of course, de Gaulle's masterly oratory was a prelude to his selling the pied noirs down the river. No one is really sure how far he had thought ahead when he chose to begin his speech in such a remarkable fashion, but with all we know of him, it is difficult to believe he had not already recognised that France had no future in Algeria.

Indeed, Alistair Horne, who has written of this period in Algeria with more insight than almost anyone else, suggests that de Gaulle was speaking in two voices, 'one for the elated masses, another for his own clairvoyant pessimism'. And Horne notes that, back in Paris immediately afterwards, de Gaulle commented (in terms that would sit well with the Graham Richardson playbook) 'L'Afrique est foutue et l'Algerie avec' (which for the purposes of this publication I will translate as 'Africa is stuffed and Algeria with it').

Prime Minister Gillard's Lowy Institute speech had all the elements of 'understanding', but one has to doubt whether she had thought matters through in the way it seems de Gaulle had done those many years ago.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

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