French left braced for urban wind of change

In some of cities, political power could be about to shift for the first time in twenty years, Mary Dejevsky reports from Lille

They have been upstaged by the presidential elections, and eclipsed by Bosnia. But France's municipal elections, less than a week away, are making waves in some of the country's biggest cities, where power could change for the first time in more than 20 years.

One of the fiercest campaigns is being conducted in Lille, which to Britons may mostly be known as the place where the Channel Tunnel train stops before reaching Paris. Looked at from the capital, Lille is the main city in the north, but for the people of the city itself, it is the centre of the world, possessing much the same fierce provincialism as Manchester or Leeds. Its mayoral campaign - the contest that will determine who runs Lille for the next six years - reflects all these tensions.

With a population of 172,000, Lille has several distinct faces. If you arrive at the new Eurolille station - the one used by the Eurostar express - it presents a contrast between 21st-century magnificence and urban decay.

If you come through the old Lille-Flandres station, 200 yards away, you arrive in a finished city, with Victorian-style architecture. But sale boards and "reduced" signs suggest the recession is still unconquered.

If you take the bus or the metro to the south, or the new tramway to the north and east, you find a third Lille. The prevailing colour of passengers is black and brown, and you are quickly into sprawling grey suburbs, with veiled women and the men hanging around gloomy cafes. The work - coal, steel and textiles - that brought so many to the north-east, is in decline.

The future is said to be in finance and services, but these are not sectors that help immigrant manual workers in the suburbs, and they have votes.

The right's candidate, the highly personable Alex Turk, is not a member of either of the two main parties of the right, the RPR or the UDF. He left the RPR when they proposed nominating the new Prime Minister, Alain Juppe, as mayor of Lille, and became an independent. Mr Juppe found himself a more reliable berth in Bordeaux, and Mr Turk was free to lead the challenge to the left in Lille.

His 59-member council list is up against the impressive, and entrenched, party machine of the left, headed by Pierre Mauroy, 66, who has not only been mayor for the past 12 years, but is also a former Socialist prime minister (under President Mitterrand), and one of the party's grandees .

Mr Mauroy's disadvantage is that he represents the status quo. From the outside, that may not look at all bad - Lille has clearly had money poured into it over the years of Socialist government. But people are amazed to hear that from across the Channel, the city is seen as a success. Eurolille epitomises many of their doubts: locals see it as shifting the focus of the city. The old centre seems far from dead, but people feel the risk.

Their other complaint, on which Mr Turk is capitalising, is the amount of local taxes people think is going into grandiose projects like Eurolille. Much of the money has actually come from central government and EU funds; many people, however, feel that it would be better spent sprucing up the suburbs and improving local services.

Mr Turk says he wants to bring government closer to the people and he offers a multiplicity of ideas, from redesigning housing estates to reintroducing mounted police. Mr Mauroy and his team are campaigning on their record - it was he who lobbied to have the tunnel trains stop there. But, after the election of Jacques Chirac to the presidency, he recognises that the mood is for change.

With that in mind, perhaps, Mr Mauroy has proposed as his deputy Martine Aubry, a budding prime minister if the Socialists regain national power. Ms Aubry has not gone down well everywhere in Lille. "A caviar socialist, parachuted in from Paris . Not one of us northerners," people grumble.

The first round next Sunday will show whether Ms Aubry can help retain Lille, or whether the future is with Mr Turk's brand of Chiracism and anti-politics.

Suggested Topics
News
newsGlobal index has ranked the quality of life for OAPs - but the UK didn't even make it into the top 10
News
people

Kirstie Allsopp has waded into the female fertility debate again

Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
people
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
News
Gillian Anderson was paid less than her male co-star David Duchovny for three years while she was in the The X-Files until she protested and was given the same salary
people

Gillian Anderson lays into gender disparity in Hollywood

Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Arts and Entertainment
Swiss guards stand in the Sistine Chapel, which is to be lit, and protected, by 7,000 LEDs
art

The Sistine Chapel is set to be illuminated with thousands of LEDs

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsA Welsh town has changed its name - and a prize if you can notice how
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
News
i100
Sport
Ronaldinho signs the t-shirt of a pitch invader
footballProof they are getting bolder
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Middleware Support Analyst

£45000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Senior Java Developer/Designer

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: My client are looking fo...

Domino Developer and Administrator

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Domino ...

IT Technician

£26000 - £27000 per annum: Randstad Education Group: Experienced Science Techn...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?