Peter Mandelson, the former cabinet minister, has blamed the success of Jean-Marie Le Pen on the French Socialists' failure to address voters' concerns over immigration and asylum.
Mr Mandelson's remarks yesterday, which were echoed by Downing Street, came as Labour, Tories and the Liberal Democrats warned that votes should be exercised with care and that a low turnout in next month's local elections could offer an opening to the British National Party.
The former Northern Ireland Secretary told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that a meeting with Mr Jospin's chief of staff before the presidential campaign revealed that his party was afraid of tackling the issue of asylum. By contrast, Britain had developed "mature, balanced" policies that diminished the chances of far-right electoral wins, he said.
"The French Socialist Party never properly adjusted to the real, popular concerns in France about crime and anti-social behaviour," he said. "These are big issues in themselves, but they are also proxy for people's concerns about immigration.
"I think that Jospin felt almost as if to develop strong, active policies, as we have done here in Britain, was like pandering to the right. That is complete rubbish. If you don't address people's concerns ... you are simply allowing people like Le Pen to run away with these issues."
Labour used crime and asylum last night as the theme for its first local elections broadcast. Mr Blair's spokesman cautioned against "reading across" from the French election to the British local elections on 2 May, but said that it was vital that the public voted.
"No one is saying asylum isn't an issue. It clearly is, and we are addressing it," he said. "No one's saying crime isn't a problem. It is, but it is falling and we are addressing it. The Prime Minister has always rejected extremism in any shape or form. He is proud of the fact that this country is largely tolerant and multi-cultural."
Downing Street said last night that Mr Blair intended to contact Mr Chirac and Mr Jospin, who has said he will leave politics.
David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, said it was risky to vote for minority candidates. "I would certainly advise those voting in Britain on 2 May that they should be very mindful indeed of what happens when people throw their vote away in a gesture and find they have elected a member of a fascist party," he said.
Iain Duncan Smith, who was electioneering outside the Conservative Central Office for the local elections, appealed for asylum and crime to be debated in "a calm and reasoned manner".
Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, said: "This vote should focus our attention on the dangers of increasing cynicism about politics and politicians. Every vote matters and should be used with care."Reuse content