UK councils to keep ties with far-right twin towns

The leaders of two British towns say they have no plans to cut ties with the French towns they are twinned with despite the fact they were captured by the anti-EU far-right in recent local elections. That stance was in contrast to the position taken by towns in Belgium.

UK councils to keep ties with far-right twin towns
British cities have shrugged off the far-right victories in their twin cities across the Channel. Photo: AFP

After far-right candidates won 14 towns in France’s historic local election last month the response from Belgian cities twinned with two of the communes was swift.

"Politically, we cannot continue to work with people who develop such views, such ideologies," Hughes Bayet, the Socialist mayor of Farciennes, which is twinned with Beaucaire in Northern France, told Belgian broadcaster RTBF.

However, elected officials in the British towns of Stockport and Wakefield, which are twinned respectively with Béziers and Henin-Beaumont, say the fact their sister cities are now governed by mayors backed by the anti-immigration, anti-EU party National Front, will not prompt official ties to be cut.

In Stockport, Council leader Sue Derbyshire had come under pressure from the left-wing Labour group to end its twinning with with Beziers, but although she said she wouldn't accept – or offer – any official visits at present, she sees cutting ties with the French town a breach of the democratic process.

“As a democrat, I have to accept the result of the electoral process,” Derbyshire was quoted as saying in the Manchester Evening News. “If we say democracy is good, as long as we agree with the result, but if we don’t, then they can get lost, we will push those in a pluralist society who have minority views to believe they have no place in the democratic process.

“We wouldn’t like it if they did it to us and I don’t think we have the right to do it to them," she said before adding “while I would not extend or accept an invitation to or from Beziers at the moment, I don’t see any need to say to them ‘we disapprove of you, therefore we’re not going to have anything to do with you’."

Since being elected Beziers mayor Robert Menard has banned the serving of halal meals in town canteens and sacked the local police chief.

Derbyshire however pointed to the fact that Stockport, twinned with Béziers since 1972, hasn't had a civic exchange since 2005 with its French counterpart and not much school school involvement either lately.

"Twinning was a post-war way of making connections internationally, but in this day and age, it’s not really necessary. It was always about culture, schools and young people," she said.

The council over in Wakefield was similarly unmoved by the The National Front's electoral success in its twin town of Henin Beaumont, though for more pragmatic reasons.

“We don’t have the budget these days to have run twinning arrangements in the way we used to do and don’t have active links with Henin-Beaumont, so not really in a position to comment at the moment,” a Wakefield council spokeswoman told The Local.

 One of the first things Henin Beaumont's new National Front mayor Steeve Briois did after gaining office last week was to boot the local branch of the League of Human Right's out of their office and cut their €300-a-year subsidy, saying they are were not entitled to it.

"The law will be respected in Henin-Beaumont," he said.

The local elections have prompted quite a shake-up in France, however. As a result of voters deserting President François Hollande's Socialist party en masse, the prime minister has been replaced and the cabinet reshuffled in an attempt to quell the electorate's anger over the poor state of health of the economy.

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Tens of thousands march against far-right in France

Tens of thousands of people across France on Saturday marched against "attacks on freedoms" and what organisers said was a growing influence of far-right ideas ahead of next year's presidential elections.

Tens of thousands march against far-right in France
A "Freedom march" called by several organisations, associations and trade unions to "combat extreme right-wing ideas" on June 12. credit: SAMEER AL-DOUMY / AFP

Members of more than 100 left-leaning organisations participated in the “Liberty March” in cities and towns across the country.

The protests were the first opportunity for a divided left to take to the streets after a year and a half of Covid-19 restrictions.

Organisers reported 70,000 participants in Paris and 150,000 around the nation, while the Paris police and interior ministry put the numbers at 9,000 in the capital and 37,000 nationwide.

The interior ministry said 119 rallies had taken place.

In Nantes, western France, around 900 people rallied, according to the local prefecture, including scores of far-left militants who clashed with police.

In the Mediterranean port of Marseilles, more than a thousand demonstrators marched behind a CGT union banner that called for “unity to break down the capitalism that leads to fascism”.

Protesters vented against issues ranging from recent legislation they say chips away at liberties, such as a law that could see prosecutions for publishing images of police officers in action, to what they charge is a creep of far-right ideas into the mainstream ahead of next year’s elections.

In the southern city of Toulouse, a 54-year-old teacher and union activist who gave his name as Gauthier remarked that students had begun to challenge him and warned that “extreme right ideas are gaining ground”.

Far-right ideas “are no longer the monopoly of far-right parties and … have now largely penetrated the political class,” said Benoit Hamon, the Socialist presidential candidate in 2017.

In Paris, far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon had flour thrown in his face as he spoke to reporters.

A suspect arrested later in the day claimed to be a “sovereigntist” who social network specialists said broadcast far-right commentary on YouTube.

The move against Melenchon, who has been accused of fuelling conspiracy theories ahead of the presidential election, came days after President Emmanuel Macron was slapped in the face while shaking hands with people on a regional visit.

Other events that have caused concern in France recently are allegations of ties between far-left figures including Melenchon and Islamists, a YouTube video that simulated the execution of a militant from his France Unbowed party, and university gatherings at which Caucasian participants were allegedly not allowed to speak.

Jordan Bardella, vice president of the far-right National Rally (RN) party, dismissed the demonstrations on Saturday as a bid to deflect attention from Melenchon’s remarks on terrorism and the 2022 presidential election.

Groups that took part included Socialists, Communists, ecologists and trade unions.

READ MORE: Calls for nationwide day of demonstrations in France against ‘far-right ideology’