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.
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Rising crime and fewer police show the most damaging impacts of austerity

We need to protect those who protect us.

Today’s revelation that police-recorded crime has risen by 10 per cent across England and Wales shows one of the most damaging impacts of austerity. Behind the cold figures are countless stories of personal misery; 723 homicides, 466,018 crimes with violence resulting in injury, and 205,869 domestic burglaries to take just a few examples.

It is crucial that politicians of all parties seek to address this rising level of violence and offer solutions to halt the increase in violent crime. I challenge any Tory to defend the idea that their constituents are best served by a continued squeeze on police budgets, when the number of officers is already at the lowest level for more than 30 years.

This week saw the launch Chris Bryant's Protect The Protectors Private Member’s Bill, which aims to secure greater protections for emergency service workers. It carries on where my attempts in the last parliament left off, and could not come at a more important time. Cuts to the number of police officers on our streets have not only left our communities less safe, but officers themselves are now more vulnerable as well.

As an MP I work closely with the local neighbourhood policing teams in my constituency of Halifax. There is some outstanding work going on to address the underlying causes of crime, to tackle antisocial behaviour, and to build trust and engagement across communities. I am always amazed that neighbourhood police officers seem to know the name of every kid in their patch. However cuts to West Yorkshire Police, which have totalled more than £160m since 2010, have meant that the number of neighbourhood officers in my district has been cut by half in the last year, as the budget squeeze continues and more resources are drawn into counter-terrorism and other specialisms .

Overall, West Yorkshire Police have seen a loss of around 1,200 officers. West Yorkshire Police Federation chairman Nick Smart is clear about the result: "To say it’s had no effect on frontline policing is just a nonsense.” Yet for years the Conservatives have argued just this, with the Prime Minister recently telling MPs that crime was at a record low, and ministers frequently arguing that the changing nature of crime means that the number of officers is a poor measure of police effectiveness. These figures today completely debunk that myth.

Constituents are also increasingly coming to me with concerns that crimes are not investigated once they are reported. Where the police simply do not have the resources to follow-up and attend or investigate crimes, communities lose faith and the criminals grow in confidence.

A frequently overlooked part of this discussion is that the demands on police have increased hugely, often in some unexpected ways. A clear example of this is that cuts in our mental health services have resulted in police officers having to deal with mental health issues in the custody suite. While on shift with the police last year, I saw how an average night included a series of people detained under the Mental Health Act. Due to a lack of specialist beds, vulnerable patients were held in a police cell, or even in the back of a police car, for their own safety. We should all be concerned that the police are becoming a catch-all for the state’s failures.

While the politically charged campaign to restore police numbers is ongoing, Protect The Protectors is seeking to build cross-party support for measures that would offer greater protections to officers immediately. In February, the Police Federation of England and Wales released the results of its latest welfare survey data which suggest that there were more than two million unarmed physical assaults on officers over a 12-month period, and a further 302,842 assaults using a deadly weapon.

This is partly due to an increase in single crewing, which sees officers sent out on their own into often hostile circumstances. Morale in the police has suffered hugely in recent years and almost every front-line officer will be able to recall a time when they were recently assaulted.

If we want to tackle this undeniable rise in violent crime, then a large part of the solution is protecting those who protect us; strengthening the law to keep them from harm where possible, restoring morale by removing the pay cap, and most importantly, increasing their numbers.

Holly Lynch is the MP for Halifax. The Protect the Protectors bill will get its second reading on the Friday 20th October. 

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