The leader of Ukip, Nigel Farage MEP, must have groaned when he learned that the French National Front is now modelling itself on his party. Marine Le Pen, who is poised to take over leadership of the Front National (FN) from her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, describes it as a "patriotic" party that has more in common with Ukip than the BNP. Given the sinister resonances that the words "National Front" have in Britain, Miss Le Pen has presented Ukip's opponents with a seasonal gift. "Ukip – backed by the French National Front" is a rhetorical swipe worthy of David Cameron's description of the party's supporters as "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists".
We should not, however, be too quick to dismiss reports that a sanitised Front National has succeeded in reaching out to a new constituency. The FN's selling point is its opposition to the "Islamisation" of French public life – but not, it is careful to add, to Islam itself. Miss Le Pen claims that pork is being taken off the menu in French schools and that state funds are being used to build "ostentatious mosque cathedrals". She may never be elected president, but over a quarter of French voters approve of her; at no point in the history of the Fifth Republic has an aggressive Right-wing party enjoyed such support among the middle classes.