The planned national one-day strike in France tomorrow should be a fairly bloodless affair. Teachers, postal workers and state pharmacists are unlikely to riot in an orgy of destruction, unlikely to smash the un-Gallic windows of the US junk food / drink chains. A few anarchists will get beaten by the CRS. The Communists, almost as venerable and revered as Galapagos tortoises, and almost as rare, will have their own sub-strike. Above all, the strike will be French. The unemployed north Africans who crowd the banlieue will not strike for the most part; how can you strike if you don't have a job? But they may take advantage of the chaos to burn a few Citroens.
Tomorrow is a warning shot. If things get really serious, then the differences between France and the UK will start to show. The French can't trust their army not to join the civil protests, let alone trust them to combat the protesters. Neither can the Dutch, Italians, Spanish or Portuguese.
In 2006 these nations formed an integrated EU Gendarmerie, with 900 standing troops and a further 2,300 on call in emergencies. Although technically available to any EU nation needing help to suppress civil disorder, States requiring their services are unlikely to include the UK. Britain has always reserved this role for the army, and indeed the Ceremonial Duties Battalion permanently stationed in London has a lesser known role as the Public Order Battalion.
But how loyal to a Brown government would the British army be? They loathe him, but the suggestion that troops may not act against serious civil disorder in the UK is as repugnant to most serving officers as the suggestion that the Adjutant wears girly's panties and shares with Mark Oaten an interest in glass coffee tables. Brown's ministers must have asked themselves this question. Let's hope it never comes to the test, for Brown would have little reservation I suspect in tasking French and Spanish paramilitaries with shooting English rioters.