Pay for it twice? It's not a Saudi arms deal

Gordon and little John set up a charity shop to raise money for Africa. But for Cherie, parting with

Scene 1: The Blairs' flat. Cherie is at her dressing table applying make-up. Gordon trots in with little John.

John: Hello, Auntie Cherie.

Cherie: What do you two want?

Gordon: Lovely morning. Looking beautiful, as ever, Cherie.

Cherie: Cut the smarm. You're after something.

Gordon: As a matter of fact we're raising money for Africa.

Cherie: Oh, not again. Will that place ever stop bleeding us white? Put me down for 50p. I'll have to owe it to you. I'm skint.

Gordon: Actually, young John has decided to set up a little shop in Downing Street selling gifts donated by all the nice people working here.

Cherie: Really. And he dreamed that up on his own?

Gordon: Yup. Clever little lad, eh? And we knew you wouldn't want to miss out.

She throws one of Tony's egg-stained ties at him.

Cherie: There.

Gordon: Er, well, we were hoping you'd do a bit better than that. Everyone's been very generous. Hilary Benn has offered his services as a share tipster. I've donated a nuclear submarine made of lolly sticks. And John Reid's given us a signed copy of habeas corpus - which'll be quite a rarity once it's been repealed.

Cherie [rummages in her bag]: OK, you scrounging do-gooders. Have that.

Gordon: A lipstick?

Cherie: I lent it to Angela Merkel at the G8. And Ludmilla Putin. It's decorated some of the world's most powerful smirks.

Gordon: OK, thanks. And how about that lovely handbag, too?

Cherie: No way. It's worth nearly a grand. It's a Tanner Krolle, custom-made for me by . . .

Gordon: Grab it, John.

John snatches the bag and runs out.

Cherie: Hey, come back, you little thief.

She rushes to the door. Gordon blocks her path.

Cherie: Out the way!

Gordon [eases her back to her chair]: Come on, Cherie. You've got lots of bags.

Cherie: That one's special.

Gordon: But think of the poor, underprivileged people who can't afford a bag like that.

Cherie: It's for Sarah? You should have said.

Scene 2: Tony's office, two hours later. Tony is going through his MI5 phone directory, trying to flog honours while he still can. Cherie comes in, fuming.

Tony: What's up?

Cherie: Bastard Features next door has pinched my handbag.

Tony: Pinch it back.

Cherie: I can't. He's leaked it to the press that I donated it to John's stupid "shop for Africa" stunt.

Tony: We'll get you another.

Cherie: It's unique, Tony. Tailor-made from baby seal fur to make my hips look narrower. You'll have to buy it back.

Tony: What, pay for it twice? It's a bag, not a bloody Saudi arms deal. Anyway, we can't afford it.

Cherie: Try shifting more honours.

Tony: I am trying. And it's not that easy. I just offered David Beckham a KBE for five grand. Cheeky sod turned me down. Reckons it's too early in his career. What the hell's wrong with these people?

Cherie: He's probably holding out for a peerage.

Tony: But he's just a clapped-out midfielder. It'll look very odd putting him in the House of Lords.

Cherie: What, because he's loaded and useless and can barely remember his own name?

Beat.

Tony: You're right. He'd be perfect.

Scene 3: The Cabinet Room. John is counting up the cash. Only one thing remains unsold. Gordon decides to auction it.

Gordon: Come on, folks. Final item. Just five grand for this lovely handbag, which Cherie has generously donated - well, after a small scuffle. Come on. It's in a noble cause.

Cherie: Yeah. Making you look good.

Gordon: Well, hardly. All this money will buy 30 water purification units for children's hospices in Africa.

Cherie: So next time Madonna goes orphan-shopping she won't have to bring her own Evian.

Tony: Shut up, darling, you're making a fool of yourself.

Gordon: Any takers?

Hazel Blears is jumping up and down with her hand up, but no one can see her.

Gordon: Hilary? Come on. We know you can afford it.

Harriet Harman raises her finger.

Harman: I'll have it.

Cherie: What? You never spend more than fifty quid on a bag. And it shows.

Harman [writing a cheque]: It's not about the bag, is it, silly. This is about investing in the future.

Gordon: Absolutely, deputy prime minister. I mean Harriet. So we have a sale. Unless there's a better offer in the room . . .

Hazel Blears leaps up on to the table, making herself just visible over Hilary Benn's head.

Blears: Gordon. I'll give you six grand.

Gordon: That's more like it.

Harman: Six grand? For a handbag? It's a disgrace. What kind of country are we living in? I'll offer seven.

Blears: Eight.

Harman: Nine.

Cherie: Ten.

Gordon: Done.

Cherie: What?

Gordon: Sold to Cherie Blair. What a beautiful gesture. Ten thousand pounds for Africa.

Cherie: Er, Tony?

Tony: Don't look at me.

Cherie: Might be time to call Lord Beckham.

This article first appeared in the 18 June 2007 issue of the New Statesman, New Britain - The country Brown inherits

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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.