2008 Wish List

The UK directors of major NGOs tell us what they would like to see happen in 2008

Shami Chakrabarti - Liberty

These seasonal lists are normally a bit of polemic mixed with an ounce of idle hope. Not so this time. I sense the beginnings of a new progressive consensus for fundamental rights and freedoms in the UK. Arguments for extending pre-charge detention in anti-terror cases have collapsed beyond repair but unlike her recent predecessors, the Home Secretary has had the sense not to close the door to further movement. Across democratic politics and every strand of society, people know that a belief in human dignity, equal treatment and justice could yet unite and embolden the oldest unbroken democracy on Earth.

Barbara Stocking – Oxfam

For 2008 I wish for an end to the conflict in Darfur. From January 1st I wish for a UN/ African Union force in Darfur which is able to protect the people, especially the women, who are subject to appalling attacks. That for me would also make it possible for us to regain some access to the many people in need by dealing with the banditry which is putting civilians and humanitarian workers at risk.

Then I would like to see an inclusive peace agreement supported by the Sudanese Government, rebel movements and the people themselves.Then, when the situation is peaceful and, at long last, people who want to go home feel able to do so safely, there needs to be sufficient donor support to allow this to happen.

This is all possible, but it will take political will and determination right across the world to make it happen.

Mike Lake - Help the Aged

We've had the Government's thinking on the design of social care services - the unfinished business for 2008 is the funding issue. A promised Green Paper will discuss how much we need to put in to this chronically underfunded service which faces serious challenges because of demographic change, and how much should be tax-funded and how much should individuals contribute. Outside Government, there is some consensus about the way forward: the key question is, will the Government grasp the nettle? What's needed now is action to secure access for all older people to high quality, affordable social care.

Donna Covey – Refugee Council

Ideally, of course, I’d like to see asylum seekers and refugees treated fairly, and given sanctuary when they need it. I’d like them not to be vilified and scapegoated by the media, politicians and the public.

But I know that’s a big ask, so I’ll start with a small one. I’d like the government to stop making asylum seekers whose claims have been refused destitute. Starving people into accepting a return to a country where they fear persecution can never be an acceptable government policy. All asylum seekers should have access to food and shelter while they are here. And they should be allowed to work – allowing them to support themselves and their families, as well as contribute to our communal well-being.

Adam Sampson - Shelter

In short, another year like the last will do for me. 2007 saw housing back up to the top of the political agenda, with commitments to build three million homes and a huge wedge of funding into new social housing. If we get more of the same in 2008, with the stream of new policy initiatives continuing unabated, I’ll be happy.

And if the Conservatives swing in to support the new drive, particularly at local authority level where the battle to free up the land for building is likely to be fought out, I’ll be ecstatic. So long as we avoid a housing market crash and a repossessions crisis, that is.

Oh and I hope that Fabio Capello doesn’t break our hearts.

Dame Mary Marsh - NSPCC

After an important year in which the issues for the well being of all children and young people in the UK have been high on the agenda and then set as key priorities for 2008, we have to secure delivery on this. I hope that there will much more participation by children and young people both in activities they enjoy and in wider contribution to their communities. I look forward across all four nations to better provision for their health, safety and learning and real progress towards the target of halving child poverty by 2010.

John Sauven - Greenpeace

2008 must be the year that the UK Government gets serious about tackling climate change. Gordon Brown must start the year by rejecting new nuclear power stations, an expensive and dangerous distraction from the real solutions – renewable energy and energy efficiency.

The proposed third runway at Heathrow must be blocked on climate grounds, as the proposal threatens to permanently derail our long term Co2 targets. We need a network of marine reserve to protect our fragile fish stocks, as well as renewed efforts to protect the world’s last remaining tropical forests. Finally, we need a new industrial revolution to jump start the UK’s renewable energy sector. This Government tells us that we face tough choices if we are to tackle this problem effectively. Now is the time to make them.

Kate Allen – Amnesty International

In 2008 I’d like to see a successful Beijing Olympics - and not just in terms of medals for team GB (though a few golds wouldn’t go amiss). The Chinese authorities promised that the Olympics would bring improvements to human rights and so far that simply hasn’t happened. Free speech is restricted, thousands are executed each year, detention without trial continues and people who stand up for human rights are brutally repressed. But there is still time to bring in reforms: Beijing 2008 could be a celebration of all that’s good about China and the Olympics could leave a lasting legacy for human rights

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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.