Dawn raids: a guide to the etiquette

They've come to take your husband away. How should you treat them, asks Gillian Linscott

Dear Ms Manners: Before dawn last Thursday our cottage was raided by Ministry of Defence police. Six plainclothes officers arrested my husband under the Official Secrets Act and spent the next seven and a half hours searching the place from top to bottom. He has written a book about 300 years of fighting in Ireland and apparently there is something in it of which the MoD does not approve. Their manners were impeccable, but never having been in this situation before I felt socially at a disadvantage. Is one expected to throw crockery, barricade oneself in one's study or inquire if they would like breakfast? I'm sure any guidance you could give would be very helpful to anybody who might find him or herself in a similar situation.

It's just after dawn, in a village of black and white cottages in north Herefordshire. Frost on the grass. Two women are about to feed a pony. One is slicing carrots into a bucket. The other, who wears a smart black trouser suit, is holding open the fodder room door. They are talking about whether garter snakes make good pets for children. A calm rural scene from Middle England, except that the woman in the black trouser suit is a sergeant in the Ministry of Defence CID. I am the one slicing carrots. She and her five male colleagues have just got us from our beds at ten minutes to seven, arrested my husband under Section 5 of the Official Secrets Act 1989 and handed him a search warrant.

Back at the cottage they have started going methodically through his files, taking photographs as they go. I'm not under arrest, but the woman sergeant has obviously been ordered to stick by me.

I've done the civil rights things. My message is already recorded on a solicitor's answerphone, plus calls to three newspapers whose journalists, at this time of the morning, will probably still be waiting for the coffee to filter through or shivering on Tube platforms. When the pony is fed and we're walking back other things are on my mind. Stupid things - like how come this woman and I are already on first name terms, and do we offer them coffee?

Back inside, one problem is solved. My husband, Tony Geraghty, with filing cabinets being searched and camera flashing in the background, is well launched on the hospitality round. Although he's under arrest, they won't be taking him away until they've finished searching the house. So he hands round cups of tea with one sugar, coffee black with no sugar, coffee white with two sugars, even - no, I don't believe this - even a bowl of muesli for one of them who admits to being hungry. They missed breakfast, you see. Stayed overnight at the local hotel, all six of them. Had to set their alarm clocks to get up at quarter past five. I find myself murmuring sympathetically that it's an ungodly hour to have to get up.

They dined at the hotel the night before. The plump one with the camera had the full Christmas dinner. They tease him about that. I should say something bitter, I know I should, about sitting there scoffing turkey at the taxpayer's expense, planning dawn raids on innocent, hard-working writers, but it seems - well, so inhospitable, so louche, to break up the chummy mood. The sergeant who seems to be in charge, thirtyish, smart suit, smooth haircut, almost apologises for the earliness of their arrival. They have to come early, you see, to find people in. I remember that their pre-dawn knock on the door was soft, another near-apology, like a neighbour who really doesn't want to disturb you, but . . .

When they search my study and our bedroom, they ask me to be there. They are neat, methodical. My files on the suffragette movement are not deemed dangerous to public safety. Downstairs, Tony is not so lucky. Two of the officers are poring over his computer while others take what they want from the filing cabinets. On the dining room table, the line of envelope files and papers in clear plastic evidence bags grows steadily. They will be taking them away. Of course, Tony will be given a receipt. He makes a quip about signing a copy of his book, The Irish War, for them "before you send me down". For a moment the atmosphere goes cold. "Joke," he says.

In the bedroom, I wonder whether to watch or not watch as the nice woman sergeant goes through the bag containing my dirty underwear waiting to be washed. Watch. Say nothing. Try not to blush because she must have seen the vibrator on the chest of drawers. My fault. Should have put it away before our guests arrived.

In the spare room, there's a big cardboard box tied up with string, labelled "Do Not Tilt". I can't remember what's in it. Three of them look at it with caution. "I don't think it's a bomb," I say. One of them says, "Well, if it is, we're all going together." It turns out to be empty glass jars. "For herbal tinctures," I explain. "He's interested in herbalism." Why can't I shut up? I don't have to explain that to them.

It's a relief when the photographer from the Daily Telegraph arrives outside. I can go to the gate and talk to him, back in a world I understand, pose for pictures. The team from inside watch, amused. They wonder if the photographer's ears are getting cold. They joke about making sure their hair is combed before they go out, because they're making frequent trips to their little white van, carrying those plastic evidence bags. Soon Tony's computer goes into the van, too.

The solicitor phones. They begin making arrangements to take Tony to the local police station, everybody as calm as if they were going to the pictures together. At 2.20 in the afternoon they walk with Tony down the path, open the car door for him. I think they probably said goodbye. I dare say I did. Goodbye, safe journey, come again soon. Such nice people. They've just taken my husband away.

Note: Tony Geraghty was at the police station for five hours, being questioned for part of the time and also locked in a cell. He was released on unconditional bail and told to report to Hereford police station at 1pm on 29 January. He has so far not been charged with anything.

This article first appeared in the 11 December 1998 issue of the New Statesman, Plato rules, OK?

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The French millennials marching behind Marine Le Pen

A Front National rally attracts former socialists with manicured beards, and a lesbian couple. 

“In 85 days, Marine will be President of the French Republic!” The 150-strong crowd cheered at the sound of the words. On stage, the speaker, the vice-president of the far-right Front National (FN), Florian Philippot, continued: “We will be told that it’s the apocalypse, by the same banks, media, politicians, who were telling the British that Brexit would be an immediate catastrophe.

"Well, they voted, and it’s not! The British are much better off than we are!” The applause grew louder and louder. 

I was in the medieval city of Metz, in a municipal hall near the banks of the Moselle River, a tributary of the Rhine from which the region takes its name. The German border lies 49km east; Luxembourg City is less than an hour’s drive away. This is the "Country of the Three Borders", equidistant from Strasbourg and Frankfurt, and French, German and French again after various wars. Yet for all that local history is deeply rooted in the wider European history, votes for the Front National rank among the highest nationally, and continue to rise at every poll. 

In rural Moselle, “Marine”, as the Front National leader Marine Le Pen is known, has an envoy. In 2014, the well-spoken, elite-educated Philippot, 35, ran for mayor in Forbach, a former miner’s town near the border. He lost to the Socialist candidate but has visited regularly since. Enough for the locals to call him “Florian".

I grew up in a small town, Saint-Avold, halfway between Metz and Forbach. When my grandfather was working in the then-prosperous coal mines, the Moselle region attracted many foreign workers. Many of my fellow schoolmates bore Italian and Polish surnames. But the last mine closed in 2004, and now, some of the immigrants’ grandchildren are voting for the National Front.

Returning, I can't help but wonder: How did my generation, born with the Maastricht treaty, end up turning to the Eurosceptic, hard right FN?

“We’ve seen what the other political parties do – it’s always the same. We must try something else," said Candice Bertrand, 23, She might not be part of the group asking Philippot for selfies, but she had voted FN at every election, and her family agreed. “My mum was a Communist, then voted for [Nicolas] Sarkozy, and now she votes FN. She’s come a long way.”  The way, it seemed, was political distrust.

Minutes earlier, Philippot had pleaded with the audience to talk to their relatives and neighbours. Bertrand had brought her girlfriend, Lola, whom she was trying to convince to vote FN.  Lola wouldn’t give her surname – her strongly left-wing family would “certainly not” like to know she was there. She herself had never voted.

This infuriated Bertrand. “Women have fought for the right to vote!” she declared. Daily chats with Bertrand and her family had warmed up Lola to voting Le Pen in the first round, although not yet in the second. “I’m scared of a major change,” she confided, looking lost. “It’s a bit too extreme.” Both were too young to remember 2002, when a presidential victory for the then-Front National leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, was only a few percentage points away.

Since then, under the leadership of his daughter, Marine, the FN has broken every record. But in this region, the FN’s success isn’t new. In 2002, when liberal France was shocked to see Le Pen reach the second round of the presidential election, the FN was already sailing in Moselle. Le Pen grabbed 23.7 per cent of the Moselle vote in the first round and 21.9 per cent in the second, compared to 16.9 per cent and 17.8 per cent nationally. 

The far-right vote in Moselle remained higher than the national average before skyrocketing in 2012. By then, the younger, softer-looking Marine had taken over the party. In that year, the FN won an astonishing 24.7 per cent of the Moselle vote, and 17.8 per cent nationwide.

For some people of my generation, the FN has already provided opportunities. With his manicured beard and chic suit, Emilien Noé still looks like the Young Socialist he was between 16 and 18 years old. But looks can be deceiving. “I have been disgusted by the internal politics at the Socialist Party, the lack of respect for the low-ranked campaigners," he told me. So instead, he stood as the FN’s youngest national candidate to become mayor in his village, Gosselming, in 2014. “I entered directly into action," he said. (He lost). Now, at just 21, Noé is the FN’s youth coordinator for Eastern France.

Metz, Creative Commons licence credit Morgaine

Next to him stood Kevin Pfeiffer, 27. He told me he used to believe in the Socialist ideal, too - in 2007, as a 17-year-old, he backed Ségolène Royal against Sarkozy. But he is now a FN local councillor and acts as the party's general co-ordinator in the region. Both Noé and Pfeiffer radiated a quiet self-confidence, the sort that such swift rises induces. They shared a deep respect for the young-achiever-in-chief: Philippot. “We’re young and we know we can have perspectives in this party without being a graduate of l’ENA,” said another activist, Olivier Musci, 24. (The elite school Ecole Nationale d’Administration, or ENA, is considered something of a mandatory finishing school for politicians. It counts Francois Hollande and Jacques Chirac among its alumni. Ironically, Philippot is one, too.)

“Florian” likes to say that the FN scores the highest among the young. “Today’s youth have not grown up in a left-right divide”, he told me when I asked why. “The big topics, for them, were Maastricht, 9/11, the Chinese competition, and now Brexit. They have grown up in a political world structured around two poles: globalism versus patriotism.” Notably, half his speech was dedicated to ridiculing the FN's most probably rival, the maverick centrist Emmanuel Macron. “It is a time of the nations. Macron is the opposite of that," Philippot declared. 

At the rally, the blue, red and white flame, the FN’s historic logo, was nowhere to be seen. Even the words “Front National” had deserted the posters, which were instead plastered with “in the name of the people” slogans beneath Marine’s name and large smile. But everyone wears a blue rose at the buttonhole. “It’s the synthesis between the left’s rose and the right’s blue colour”, Pfeiffer said. “The symbol of the impossible becoming possible.” So, neither left nor right? I ask, echoing Macron’s campaign appeal. “Or both left and right”, Pfeiffer answered with a grin.

This nationwide rebranding follows years of efforts to polish the party’s jackass image, forged by decades of xenophobic, racist and anti-Semitic declarations by Le Pen Sr. His daughter evicted him from the party in 2015.

Still, Le Pen’s main pledges revolve around the same issue her father obsessed over - immigration. The resources spent on "dealing with migrants" will, Le Pen promises, be redirected to address the concerns of "the French people". Unemployment, which has been hovering at 10 per cent for years, is very much one of them. Moselle's damaged job market is a booster for the FN - between 10 and 12 per cent of young people are unemployed.

Yet the two phenomena cannot always rationally be linked. The female FN supporters I met candidly admitted they drove from France to Luxembourg every day for work and, like many locals, often went shopping in Germany. Yet they hoped to see the candidate of “Frexit” enter the Elysee palace in May. “We've never had problems to work in Luxembourg. Why would that change?” asked Bertrand. (Le Pen's “144 campaign pledges” promise frontier workers “special measures” to cross the border once out of the Schengen area, which sounds very much like the concept of the Schengen area itself.)

Grégoire Laloux, 21, studied history at the University of Metz. He didn't believe in the European Union. “Countries have their own interests. There are people, but no European people,” he said. “Marine is different because she defends patriotism, sovereignty, French greatness and French history.” He compared Le Pen to Richelieu, the cardinal who made Louis XIV's absolute monarchy possible:  “She, too, wants to build a modern state.”

French populists are quick to link the country's current problems to immigration, and these FN supporters were no exception. “With 7m poor and unemployed, we can't accept all the world's misery,” Olivier Musci, 24, a grandchild of Polish and Italian immigrants, told me. “Those we welcome must serve the country and be proud to be here.”

Lola echoed this call for more assimilation. “At our shopping centre, everyone speaks Arabic now," she said. "People have spat on us, thrown pebbles at us because we're lesbians. But I'm in my country and I have the right to do what I want.” When I asked if the people who attacked them were migrants, she was not so sure. “Let's say, they weren't white.”

Trump promised to “Make America Great Again”. To where would Le Pen's France return? Would it be sovereign again? White again? French again? Ruled by absolutism again? She has blurred enough lines to seduce voters her father never could – the young, the gay, the left-wingers. At the end of his speech, under the rebranded banners, Philippot invited the audience to sing La Marseillaise with him. And in one voice they did: “To arms citizens! Form your battalions! March, march, let impure blood, water our furrows...” The song is the same as the one I knew growing up. But it seemed to me, this time, a more sinister tune.