UKIP's Farage finds new French ally

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Media captionNigel Farage was greeted by chants of "Nigel! Nigel! Nigel!"

UKIP's Nigel Farage got a tumultuous reception in Paris on Sunday from a fellow Eurosceptic party, whose great advantage - as far as he is concerned - is that it is NOT the far-right National Front (FN).

Debout la Republique (DLR: Stand up, the Republic!) is the political vehicle of Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, a 52-year-old dissident Gaullist who feels the mainstream centre-right UMP party has sold out to Brussels. It is not a big party (he got less than 2% at the last presidentials), but it does have a niche - among respectable middle-class types who believe in the nation state.

Several hundred of Mr Dupont-Aignan's supporters crammed into the Alhambra Theatre near Place de la Republique for the launch of his Euro 2014 campaign. After a series of less-than-thrilling speeches from various DLR hopefuls, they got what they came for: a taste of the famous English firebrand.

Clearly Nigel Farage's name carries weight in these French circles. Nicolas Dupont-Aignan was almost pathetically keen to be seen at the UK Independence Party leader's side, insisting he come back to the stage for a triumphant hand-in-upraised-hand pose for the cameras. At the climax, the crowds were ecstatically chanting "Nigel! Nigel! Nigel!"

Avoiding 'baggage'

In his address, Mr Farage explained why he had chosen DLR as a partner in France, and not Marine Le Pen's FN (boos, hisses). Eurosceptics had to show the world that they were not extremists, that national sovereignty and national currency were normal aspirations. But the FN, he said, had too much political baggage. It could never entirely kick off its anti-Semitic past.

Interestingly I spoke to Mr Farage afterwards, and he was more nuanced in his critique of the FN. Marine Le Pen had "taken the party to new highs, and is achieving remarkable things in this country. I make no bones about it, she's got some good qualities," he said.

He said he could foresee a European Parliament in which UKIP and the FN vote together on any number of different subjects - along with the "British Conservatives on a good day and some hard left characters from the Mediterranean". But as for being in the same political family as the FN - that was not on the cards.

This is no doubt intelligent politics. For all Marine Le Pen has done in detoxifying the brand, the FN is still too hot to handle. Its kiss for UKIP would be the kiss of death. But it is worth bearing in mind that in terms of popular support, the French Eurosceptic equivalent of UKIP is certainly not Dupont-Aignan's minuscule DLR. It IS the National Front.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Nigel Farage (left) is teaming up with a party dwarfed by the National Front in France