France should be inspired by the British book on Brexit

Britain, as you know from watching Channel 4 (soon to be sold to Pizza Hut), is a right-wing theme park, the most absurd and irrelevant country in the world. It sounds extremely amusing, although two things cast doubt on liberal hysteria. First, the Prime Minister appeared in kyiv, where he was greeted like a rock star. Ukraine loves us. We can’t all be bad.

Second, the French, commonly cited as a more enlightened country, repeat their five-year ritual to decide between a pompous ass and a stick of dynamite, a contest that, for once, could go both ways. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a radical socialist, and Marine Le Pen took advantage of a last-minute burst.

Together, all of the so-called extremist candidates got around half of the votes. Anne-Élisabeth Moutet, our wonderful Parisian writer, tells me that right-wing Le Pen was “detoxified” by the even more goofy candidacy of Éric Zemmour who, among other things, wanted to ban Muslim names. Marine, a skilled breeder of Bengal cats, began to look cuddly in comparison.

You could say she was detoxified by the French establishment. In 2010, under President Sarkozy, the veil was banned in public places. Francois Hollande opposed controversial 2016 “burkini” bans, but it was under his administration that the state was successfully sued for racial profiling in policing. In a recent debate with Macron’s interior minister, Le Pen denied she was anti-Islam, and the minister accused her of being soft: “You have to take vitamins,” he said. – he says, “you’re not tough enough here”.

Meanwhile, center-right candidates, debating the “great replacement” theory that Muslim population growth is an attempt to displace white people, have moved away from the term, but not the premise. Valérie Pécresse did not like it because “it implies that we are already screwed”.

Marine shifted to the center, perhaps, but the center zigzags like jelly on a wild horse, and the two left/right movements that have dominated French politics since the war have collapsed into single digits. Macron only won the presidency in 2017 by describing his centrism as populist, as France is not immune to this concept. It is the zero point. It was here that Pierre Poujade launched his merchant movement in the 1950s, calling Parliament a brothel full of thieves, attracting the support of a young Jean-Marie Le Pen, father of Marine (father and daughter falling out in politics and, it seems, because his doberman ate one of his cats). Blue Labor and Red Tory, with their mixture of redistribution and social conservatism, seem new to the UK, but they are imitations of French Gaullism. As for Euroscepticism, France did it first, in 2005, when it rejected the EU constitution in a referendum.

What is remarkable about the British system is not Brexit but the rarity of Brexit and the fact that our two main parties, far from being destroyed by it, have embraced its ideas and absorbed its voters. We have a gift for stability through integration: not only is our current Chancellor Hindu, but the two favorites to replace him also have an immigrant background, while the list of French presidential candidates has been almost entirely white . Brexit Britain is a more open society than egalitarian France, perhaps because we do not seek to define ourselves with academic precision.

Hence a new election on what it means to be French, an idea invariably “threatened” by a foreign alternative, be it Islamism, globalization or awakening. France is invaded, Macron said, by “certain social theories entirely imported from the United States”. In fact, most of these crazy ideas were concocted by a Frenchman, Michel Foucault. The only value added by the American professors was to take them a little more seriously than even Foucault probably expected.

Conservatives gave up too much ground in the culture wars

I was fascinated by the fate of the Safe To Be Me conference, which the government billed as the first UK state-sponsored LGBT summit (Britain being evil, again) – until the conservatives decided not to ban trans conversion therapy and various of the groups pulled out. This failed venture cost taxpayers £650,000. The planned budget was £8.1 million.

While Westminster pretends to be desperately upset that this conference was cancelled, some readers might be more surprised that it ever took place. We can infer from the supporters’ decision to stand down that you and I paid a lot of money to fund an event to promote policies that the elected government opposes. According to a statement in December, Safe To Be Me was worked by 8.25 members of staff “within the Cabinet Office’s international LGBT+ team”, raising the question of what an “international team” is. LGBT+” and why do we need it? Since we cannot house our people adequately (16,000 families are evicted every month), this does not seem to be a priority.

The Conservatives are in trouble on this front because, out of kindness, they have conceded so much. As soon as you say “trans women are women”, no ifs, no buts, any attempt to make distinctions with other groups, to exclude them from sports or locker rooms, is liable to accusation of prejudice. This is the downside of the British aversion to ideas. We allow activists to rewrite our language and define the terms of the debate, so that when we pause to reflect, we find that the battle is almost unwinnable.

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