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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The 8 bits of good news about integration buried in the Casey Review

It's not all Trojan Horses.

The government-commissioned Casey Review on integration tackles serious subjects, from honour crimes to discrimination and hate crime.

It outlines how deprivation, discrimination, segregated schools and unenlightened traditions can drag certain British-Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities into isolation. 

It shines a light on nepotistic local politics, which only entrench religious and gender segregation. It also charts the hurdles faced by ethnic minorities from school, to university and the workplace. There is no doubt it makes uncomfortable reading. 

But at a time when the negative consequences of immigration are dominating headlines, it’s easy to miss some of the more optimistic trends the Casey Report uncovered:

1. You can always have more friends

For all the talk of segregation, 82 per cent of us socialise at least once a month with people from a different ethnic and religious background, according to the Citizenship Survey 2010-11.

More than half of first generation migrants had friends of a different ethnicity. As for their children, nearly three quarters were friends with people from other ethnic backgrounds. Younger people with higher levels of education and better wages are most likely to have close inter-ethnic friendships. 

Brits from Black African and Mixed ethnic backgrounds are the most sociable it seems, as they are most likely to have friends from outside their neighbourhood. White British and Irish ethnic groups, on the other hand, are least likely to have ethnically-mixed social networks. 

Moving away from home seemed to be a key factor in diversifying your friendship group –18 to 34s were the most ethnically integrated age group. 

2. Integrated schools help

The Casey Review tells the story of how schools can distort a community’s view of the world, such as the mostly Asian high school where pupils thought 90 per cent of Brits were Asian (the actual figure is 7 per cent), and the Trojan Horse affair, where hardline Muslims were accused of dominating the curriculum of a state school (the exact facts have never come to light). 

But on the other hand, schools that are integrated, can change a whole community’s perspective. A study in Oldham found that when two schools were merged to create a more balanced pupil population between White Brits and British Asians, the level of anxiety both groups felt diminished. 

3. And kids are doing better at school

The Casey Report notes: “In recent years there has been a general improvement in educational attainment in schools, with a narrowing in the gap between White pupils and pupils from Pakistani, Bangladeshi and African/Caribbean/Black ethnic backgrounds.”

A number of ethnic minority groups, including pupils of Chinese, Indian, Irish and Bangladeshi ethnicity, outperformed White British pupils (but not White Gypsy and Roma pupils, who had the lowest attainment levels of all). 

4. Most people feel part of a community

Despite the talk of a divided society, in 2015-16, 89 per cent of people thought their community was cohesive, according to the Community Life Survey, and agreed their local area is a place where people from different backgrounds get on well together. This feeling of cohesiveness is actually higher than in 2003, at the height of New Labour multiculturalism, when the figure stood at 80 per cent. 

5. Muslims are sticklers for the law

Much of the Casey Report dealt with the divisions between British Muslims and other communities, on matters of culture, religious extremism and equality. It also looked at the Islamophobia and discrimination Muslims face in the UK. 

However, while the cultural and ideological clashes may be real, a ComRes/BBC poll in 2015 found that 95 per cent of British Muslims felt loyal to Britain and 93 per cent believed Muslims in Britain should always obey British laws. 

6. Employment prospects are improving

The Casey Review rightly notes the discrimination faced by jobseekers, such as study which found CVs with white-sounding names had a better rate of reply. Brits from Black, Pakistani or Bangladeshi backgrounds are more likely to be unemployed than Whites. 

However, the employment gap between ethnic minorities and White Brits has narrowed over the last decade, from 15.6 per cent in 2004 to 12.8 per cent in 2015. 

In October 2015, public and private sector employers responsible for employing 1.8m people signed a pledge to operate recruitment on a “name blind” basis. 

7. Pretty much everyone understand this

According to the 2011 census, 91.6 per cent of adults in England and Wales had English as their main language. And 98.2 per cent of them could speak English. 

Since 2008-2009, most non-European migrants coming to the UK have to meet English requirements as part of the immigration process. 

8. Oh, and there’s a British Muslim Mayor ready to tackle integration head on

The Casey Review criticised British Asian community leaders in northern towns for preventing proper discussion of equality and in some cases preventing women from launching rival bids for a council seat.

But it also quoted Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, and a British Muslim. Khan criticised religious families that force children to adopt a certain lifestyle, and he concluded:

"There is no other city in the world where I would want to raise my daughters than London.

"They have rights, they have protection, the right to wear what they like, think what they like, to meet who they like, to study what they like, more than they would in any other country.”

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.