Moi, je suis Tony Blair!

The British ideas of left and right just don't seem to apply in France writes politics student Chris

The strangest thing for a Brit looking at the French political scene is having to forget all your assumptions about left and right. The concepts of left and right are so different here that it’s hard to find equivalents.

The easiest way to illustrate this is all the comparisons to Tony Blair. Nicolas Sarkozy has met with him and is a well known anglophile, Segolène Royal is credited with a Blairesque transformation of French socialism and when I went to see Francois Bayrou speak one of his supporters tried to convince me that the UDF candidate, with the same mix of support for free markets and passion for social justice, was the true “French Blair”.

As a student at Sciences-Po (the Institute of Political Studies), I often get asked how I’d vote if I could. The tendency for the parties here to straddle what seem, to a Brit, to be fairly fundamental divides makes identifying an equivalent of my centre-left stance quite difficult.

The French social state is very comprehensive (as my monthly housing benefits demonstrate) and none of the candidates are talking about significantly cutting it. Despite numerous visits to the ‘banlieues’, none of the main candidates are prepared to tackle the serious social inequalities that divide France. Instead they all subscribe to the republican dream of an indivisible French identity which comes across as both overly idealistic and very conservative in thinking to a Brit raised with 'equal but different' as watchwords..

However it is on the subject of the economy and, more specifically, globalisation where the candidates seem so at odds with their British equivalents. Sarkozy, often labelled as an economic liberal (possibly the worst insult in French politics), is lukewarm in his acknowledgement that France has to compete in the global market, rather than try to isolate and protect itself.

However, it is Royal’s approach that seems strangest to me, as someone who’s grown up with the UK Labour Party of the 1990s. Despite her modern reforming image, it’s still far from clear that she’s accepted that the superb French social system needs a thriving economy to finance it. Even the ‘third’ candidate, Bayrou seems stuck at the level of gimmicks with his policy of two tax-free jobs for every company in France.

If some of the rhetoric and policies seem alien, students involved in politics are reassuringly familiar. During a debate in a recent lecture, the Sarkozistes were perfect French equivalents of Tory Boy!

Unsurprisingly for a school like Sciences-Po, the level of political activism is pretty high, with posters everywhere and regular meetings for the different party groups. However it was when Jean-Marie Le Pen came to talk at Sciences-Po that the true level of political passion came out. Thousands of students amassed in the street and in the university buildings. I suppose it just goes to reinforce the stereotype that the French are most passionate when saying “Non” to something…

Chris Stacey is 21 and studying at the Institute of Political Studies, Paris (Sciences-Po). Next year he will return to the University of Sheffield to complete his BA in French and Politics.
Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Zac Goldsmith has bitten off more than he can chew

In standing as an independent, Goldsmith may face the worst of both worlds. 

After just 48 years, we can announce the very late arrival of the third runway at Heathrow. Assuming, that is, that it makes its way past the legal challenge from five local councils and Greenpeace, the consultation with local residents, and the financial worries of the big airlines. And that's not counting the political struggles...

While the Times leads with the logistical headaches - "Heathrow runway may be built over motorway" is their splash, the political hurdles dominate most of this morning’s papers

"Tory rebels let fly on Heathrow" says the i's frontpage, while the FT goes for "Prominent Tories lead challenge to May on Heathrow expansion". Although Justine Greening, a May loyalist to her fingertips, has limited herself to a critical blogpost, Boris Johnson has said the project is "undeliverable" and will lead to London becoming "a city of planes". 

But May’s real headache is Zac Goldsmith, who has quit, triggering a by-election in his seat of Richmond Park, in which he will stand as an anti-Heathrow candidate.  "Heathrow forces May into Brexit by-election" is the Telegraph's splash. 

CCHQ has decided to duck out of the contest entirely, leaving Goldsmith running as the Conservative candidate in all but name, against the Liberal Democrat Sarah Olney. 

What are Goldsmith's chances? To win the seat, the Liberal Democrats would need a 19.3 per cent swing from the Conservatives - and in Witney, they got exactly that.

They will also find it easier to squeeze the third-placed Labour vote than they did in Witney, where they started the race in fourth place. They will find that task all the easier if the calls for Labour to stand aside are heeded by the party leadership. In any case, that Clive Lewis, Lisa Nandy and Jonathan Reynolds have all declared that they should will be a boost for Olney even if she does face a Labour candidate.  

The Liberal Democrats are fond of leaflets warning that their rivals “cannot win here” and thanks to Witney they have one ready made.  

Goldsmith risks having the worst of all worlds. I'm waiting to hear whether or not the Conservatives will make their resources freely available to Goldsmith, but it is hard to see how, without taking an axe to data protection laws, he can make use of Conservative VoterID or information gathered in his doomed mayoral campaign. 

But in any case, the Liberal Democrats will still be able to paint him as the Brexit candidate and the preferred choice of the pro-Heathrow Prime Minister, as he is. I think Goldsmith will find he has bitten more than he can chew this time.

This article originally appeared in today's Morning Call, your essential email covering everything you need to know about British politics and today's news. You can subscribe for free here.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.