A reader writes

Alan Trevarthen squeezes in some of his thoughts on the French election just ahead of a three hour l

When I first caught sight of 'Le Blog' I started reading with apprehension, but congratulations, it contains some of the most perceptive comments I've seen yet. No easy achievement because explaining to the Anglophone world the tactical skirmishing and strategic thinking involved in the French Presidential elections must be almost as hard as explaining cricket AND American football to the French.

Before Le blog I had been reading the BBC's blog on the same subject. Their's seems to be unmoderated, open to all. That is democratic, certainly, to let everybody have their say, a noble principle, but alas, too many uninformed opinions kill a blog.

I like the BBC, well at least I like Radio 4 on long wave, (except when the news is put to one side for a month or two of cricket), but I feel the need to give my personal criticisms of their blog here in the hope these comments will encourage you to avoid the same mistakes

1 - Not enough French contribution in the BBC blog.

The French know the 12 candidates. They also know their own Republic and their culture. They themselves have a pretty good idea of what they want in life. Perhaps it is not always achievable but they have done a good job so far (apart from Paris. I'd like to see Paris gain its independance, but that's my personal opinion from where I sit in Brittany). It is the French who should be able to explain themselves best to an Anglophone blogsite. Apparently, too few have found the BBC site, and of those who have, many appear to limit what they say, perhaps to avoid using English compound verbs.

2 - There are too many contributions by outsiders living elsewhere. They may never have lived in France, but through their own country's unbiased press, and their own gut-feeling, they intuitively know what's best for the French.

(Often these are people who have voted George Bush, Margaret Thatcher, or Tony Blair, for themselves)

For example I see contributions from USA nationals whose main statement seems based on a gripe that France 'betrayed them' at the UN by not joining them to bring freedom and democracy to Iraq, and so, it appears, the French should wise up and behave responsibly now, and not worry about their jobs flowing to 50 euro a month wage rate countries.

And I see too many letters from residents of Britain who would evidently tick yes to more than one of the following
a - The hundred years war is still going on
b - The French Empire was less successful than the English Empire because it was in places that did not speak English.
c - The Murdoch press tells us all we need to know about the French.
d - The French were all guillotined during the Revolution, but because they are Catholics they have rebuilt their population.
e - All taxes paid in Britain go directly to French farmers.

I should have let my French wife, Anne, have her say, she is the politically savvy one in the family, but she is out on the terrace, sheltering from the broiling sun under the shade of the fig tree, tearing legs off frogs for our three hour lunch.

Alan Trevarthen is a Cornish born mining engineer, who has spent much of his working life in 20 or so countries worldwide. Now retired he lives permanently in Brittany with his French wife, Anne.
Getty
Show Hide image

Everyone's forgotten the one issue that united the Labour party

There was a time when Ed Miliband spoke at Momentum rallies.

To label the row over the EU at Thursday’s Labour leadership hustings "fireworks" would be to endow it with more beauty than it deserves. Owen Smith’s dogged condemnation of John McDonnell’s absence from a Remain rally – only for Corbyn to point out that his absence was for medical reasons – ought to go down as a cringing new low point in the campaign. 

Not so long ago, we were all friends. In the course of the EU referendum, almost all of the protagonists in the current debacle spoke alongside each other and praised one another’s efforts. At a local level, party activists of all stripes joined forces. Two days before polling day, Momentum activists helped organise an impromptu rally. Ed Miliband was the headline speaker, and was cheered on. 

If you take the simple version of the debate, Labour’s schism on the EU appears as an aberration of the usual dynamics of left and right in the party. Labour's left is supposedly cheering a position which avoids advocating what it believes in (Remain), because it would lose votes. Meanwhile, the right claims to be dying in a ditch for its principles - no matter what the consequences for Labour’s support in Leave-voting heartlands.

Smith wants to oppose Brexit, even after the vote, on the basis of using every available procedural mechanism. He would whip MPs against the invocation of Article 50, refuse to implement it in government, and run on a manifesto of staying in the EU. For the die-hard Europhiles on the left – and I count myself among these, having run the Another Europe is Possible campaign during the referendum – there ought to be no contest as to who to support. On a result that is so damaging to people’s lives and so rooted in prejudice, how could we ever accept that there is such a thing as a "final word"? 

And yet, on the basic principles that lie behind a progressive version of EU membership, such as freedom of movement, Smith seems to contradict himself. Right at the outset of the Labour leadership, Smith took to Newsnight to express his view – typical of many politicians moulded in the era of New Labour – that Labour needed to “listen” to the views Leave voters by simply adopting them, regardless of whether or not they were right. There were, he said, “too many” immigrants in some parts of the country. 

Unlike Smith, Corbyn has not made his post-Brexit policy a headline feature of the campaign, and it is less widely understood. But it is clear, via the five "red lines" outlined by John McDonnell at the end of June:

  1. full access to the single market
  2. membership of the European investment bank
  3. access to trading rights for financial services sector
  4. full residency rights for all EU nationals in the UK and all UK nationals in the EU, and
  5. the enshrinement of EU protections for workers. 

Without these five conditions being met, Labour would presumably not support the invocation of Article 50. So if, as seems likely, a Conservative government would never meet these five conditions, would there be any real difference in how a Corbyn leadership would handle the situation? 

The fight over the legacy of the referendum is theatrical at times. The mutual mistrust last week played out on the stage in front of a mass televised audience. Some Corbyn supporters jeered Smith as he made the case for another referendum. Smith accused Corbyn of not even voting for Remain, and wouldn’t let it go. But, deep down, the division is really about a difference of emphasis. 

It speaks to a deeper truth about the future of Britain in Europe. During the referendum, the establishment case for Remain floundered because it refused to make the case that unemployment and declining public services were the result of austerity, not immigrants. Being spearheaded by Conservatives, it couldn’t. It fell to the left to offer the ideological counter attack that was needed – and we failed to reach enough people. 

As a result, what we got was a popular mandate for petty racism and a potentially long-term shift to the right in British politics, endangering a whole raft of workplace and legal protections along the way. Now that it has happened, anyone who really hopes to overcome either Brexit, or the meaning of Brexit, has to address the core attitudes and debates at their root. Then as now, it is only clear left-wing ideas – free from any attempt to triangulate towards anti-migrant sentiment– that can have any hope of success. 

The real dividing lines in Labour are not about the EU. If they were, the Eurosceptic Frank Field would not be backing Smith. For all that it may be convenient to deny it, Europe was once, briefly, the issue that united the Labour Party. One day, the issues at stake in the referendum may do so again – but only if Labour consolidates itself around a strategy for convincing people of ideas, rather than simply reaching for procedural levers.