Control Freaks at Climate Camp

Climate Camp has come to an end but here Carly Fraser relates how while it was underway the organise

This past week over 2,000 people will have made their way to a large field in the quiet village of Sipson, on the outskirts of Heathrow beside the M4, coming together to protest against the effects air travel has on the environment.

The Camp for Climate Action 2007 is working to unite people in the fight against climate change, to galvanise the British public into action and protest against the building of a new runway at Heathrow, one of the world's busiest airports.

Activities at the camp involved running workshops, peaceful rallies and a day of 'mass direct action' to demand radical reduction in air travel. The protest movement has been hailed ‘the most important protest of our time', and sparked a flurry of media coverage.

‘We have the power right here in our hands- we can choose what the future holds', screams the press release. With this rallying cry ringing in my ears, I felt compelled to witness the movement in action and in its closing days, I headed to the camp.

A train and couple of buses rides later, plus a foiled attempt by two helpful railway staff at Hayes and Harlington to send me in the wrong direction with a 'hippies go that way', I finally made my way up a country lane to a field with an assortment of multi coloured tents, a couple of large marquees, wind turbines and some large banners with slogans reading 'Make Planes History'.

The camp is situated on the site designated for the new runway. Local residents have been campaigning against the airport expansion plans, which if they go ahead will demolish a large part of the village, changing life irrevocably for residents, and mark a considerable rise in air and noise pollution.

Startling was the heavy police presence leading to and by the entrance of the site. Earlier in the week there had been reports the police were heavy handed with campaigners, operating a stop and search policy and filming anybody entering the camp. I was told by one campaigner that around 40 police had tried to enter the camp, but campaigners linked arms and formed a line to stop police from entering.

Arriving at the camp I was heartily greeted by a friendly campaigner who lead me into the Welcome Tent to give me a brief intro to camp life. The camp is a fully functioning self contained community, an eco-friendly commune of sustainable living, recycling, composting, solar heated washing facilities, with compost toilets and recycled toilet paper.

Organised into neighbourhoods, campers live, eat (only vegan food) and sleep in marquees labelled London, Nottingham and Scotland. The Wellbeing and Support tent offers a place to relax and meditate, and should the need arise, a place to resolve conflict through a mediator. Workshops run throughout the week with lectures ranging from ‘Introduction to Consensus Decision making and Facilitation’, ‘BAA- the reality behind the spin’ ‘Songwriting for activists’ to practical skill learning like ‘How to build your own wind turbine.’

Climate camp could have been mistaken for a summer festival, with people browsing at the book stall, children running about, a guitar playing while people relax in the sunshine.

And then it all began to go wrong. I asked if I could put a couple of questions to people. I was swiftly escorted to the media tent where I encountered a man that might well make Alastair Campbell wince.

I was informed in no uncertain terms about the camp’s strict media policies; I would not be allowed to write anything while on site, interview, or take pictures freely. 'People don't want hassle' was the justification.

During the camp the press got a one hour official tour, accompanied by 2 members of the camp's media team at all times, who carry a flag to make the journalists identifiable. "All journalists must be off site by 1pm at the latest and no journalists at all on Saturday, Sunday or Monday," I was told.

I was about as welcome as the police. Reading the camp handbook on my way home under the section how to make the camp welcoming and inclusive, it read:

‘Avoid branding people as potential police/journalists. Just because someone ‘looks’ the part doesn’t mean they are.’

I left the camp feeling thoroughly disheartened. I had encountered a community which within days had created their own set of stringent rules - oppression, even, and on occupied land.

The media team operated their version of private policing, freedom of the press was once again choked.

A free press in the UK? Not in the alternative society envisaged by the organisers of the Climate Camp.

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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.