The riots: a view from across the Channel

French thinkers offer their analyses.

When the Parisian banlieues went up in flames in 2005, there was a good deal of smugly self-congratulatory commentary on this side of the Channel. In comparison with the French capital, so the argument went, London was a multicultural utopia in which people of many races lived more or less happily side by side. In Paris, by contrast, the disenfranchised, disaffected children of North and West African immigrants were coralled beyond the city limits in barren, bleak housing projects. Rarely did they come into contact with the population of Paris intra muros.

That's now been shown up for the Panglossian nonsense it always was. As James Meek argued the day after the worst of the rioting in London, the "reality of multicultural London" was a kind of uneasy truce between groups "that are rigidly self-separated by race, language, religion, class, money, education and age". And that was a truce that was broken catastrophically on the night of 8/9 August.

Now it's the turn of the French to look at us. In a special feature, Le Monde asks academics and researchers to try to "explain" the "English riots". Has the moral fabric of English society crumbled? Were the riots a sign that multiculturalism has failed (that was certainly the view of the Front National presidential hopeful Marine Le Pen)? Or were the depredations of "ultra-liberalism" to blame?

For sociologist Fabien Truong, "pre-packaged" political explanations, from both left and right, are worthless. Truong goes on to point out the differences between the riots here, which he says are "individualist and consumerist", and the violence in France in 2005. Romain Garbaye offers a similar analysis:

There's nothing new about looting on the other side of the Channel. It happened in Brixton and elsewhere in 1981. But this time, it seemed to take precedence over the desire to confront the police. . . . After the police racism of the 1980s, then the ethnic segragation and failure of social cohesion that led to the riots of 2001, Britain should now be asking itself what it can do about a frustrated consumerism based on social inequality.

Mikaël Garnier-Lavalley argues that conditions in the major French and English cities are more similar than we might think (or than most French people would like to think). On both sides of the Channel, he says, "generational and geographical inequality grows as the welfare state recedes and ultraliberalism advances". And that's an analysis echoed by the specialist in English history Olivier Esteves. In both countries, deepening inequality threatens to make urban violence of the kind seen earlier this month in London and in Paris in 2005 "both ineluctable and cyclical".

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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