Or at least that’s how some right-leaning politicians in France seem to have adapted the original revolutionary motto ‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité ou la morte’ to make it more appropriate for the less violent 21st century.
It strikes me that after an election, very few political parties can maintain public support. During election campaigns opposition politicians make promises ‘in good faith’ that appeal to the public and help them gain office. Once they get into government they often realise that they had underestimated just how difficult it is to run an entire country. When it becomes clear that this new government aren’t capable of achieving instant utopia, many voters get impatient pretty quickly and switch their allegiances back, forgetting all the criticisms they had of the former powers.
Unfortunately, this same phenomenon is unfolding in France just as the centre-left Parti Socialiste has started introducing some really promising legal bills that, if passed, would demonstrate France’s mature attitude towards social equality. In his election campaign the French President François Hollande pledged to enfranchise certain immigrants in French local elections. Now, as he tries to instigate his plan, he is meeting increasing opposition. I find it difficult to understand how any 21st century European can oppose such a seemingly fair proposition. It seems that increasing unemployment (the figure reached 3 million in August and is calculated to be at 42% in young workers) can have a huge impact on the morality of a nation. Personally, I think this is no excuse. You cannot only sign up for equality when it suits you; you need to apply it unconditionally.
In November, the centre-right UMP party will vote for a new leader, and the candidates are resorting to discriminatory tactics to try and win over voters. Disappointingly, their tactics seem to be working. Adopting the terminology of the far-right FN party, the UMP candidates have spoken out against what they perceive as ‘anti-white’ racism in France. Using emotive campaigns (posting red, white and blue fliers through hundreds of thousands of letterboxes to ensure that even people without online access can participate in their survey of opinions towards the proposed broadening of the electorate) they have compiled data that seems to show the French public don’t want legal immigrants to have a say in how their local council is run.
Just to be clear, the people Hollande wants to include are perfectly legal residents of France who contribute to the French economy via their tax contributions. Put very simply, they just weren’t born in France (or, even more unfairly, they were simply born of foreign parents). This frightens me, as it seems that it will only divide communities further. If French people don’t feel that people from unfamiliar backgrounds deserve to participate in society politically, I don’t think they can feign surprise if immigrants turn the tables and show the same level of suspicion and disrespect towards their French neighbours. This will only lead to further inequality and social disharmony.
This chicken and egg situation can, in extreme situations, lead to terrorist attacks on a country by its own citizens. In Britain we have been shocked more than once by the discovery that terrorist plots were harboured against us by ‘home-grown’ terrorists. When these terrorists come from untraditional backgrounds, can we truly say that we have gone out of our way to fully integrate them into our society? Or do we leave the onus on them, hoping that the newcomers will come to us, rather than welcoming them wholeheartedly into our society to make them feel like they are one of us now? In an effort to score political points and better their own personal situation, the two main candidates for the UMP leadership are trampling over the rights of some of the people politicians are supposed to represent.
For me there are echoes of Jeremy Hunt’s revealing reaction to his new position as health secretary following the cabinet reshuffle earlier this month. Gushing that the appointment was ‘the biggest privilege of my life’, I thought he relished the change of post more because of its significance as a career move than as an exciting opportunity for him to help improve the health of the public he claims to serve. Apart from the obvious xenophobic issues that French opposition to the new law pose for me, the illustration of the disconnect between politicians and some of the most disadvantaged members of society is hugely significant.
It seems politicians have strong ideas about what they personally want to achieve, and if they please their electorate at the same time, then that’s great, but really it’s only an afterthought. They view themselves as a different class of people, if Nick Clegg’s comments at the Liberal Democrat Convention are anything to go by (he told his party that they had to learn from ‘the British people’, as if they were the foreign subjects of an Attenborough documentary). They claim to be serving us, reversing pasty taxes when we kick up a fuss, but really the relationship seems to be more like that of a parent and a stroppy teenager: they claim to be listening to us, but really they have a completely separate agenda, and any apparent concession is really just part of their plan.
I want politicians to tell me what they truly believe in, not what they think I want them to believe in. Since I change my mind on a near daily basis, I would be very surprised if they had any idea. So really I think it’s best if they stick to their day jobs and give up the mind-reading shows. It just gives them a seedy image, and makes me distrust them. Under its new management, France has the opportunity to remodel its image. If it pushes through proposals to secularise marriage and allow unmarried parents to adopt it will show that it can rise above its immediate economic difficulties and prioritise the freedom of its citizens.