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French Parties Take Cue From Blair, Clinton in Election Tactics

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The Labour Party's sweeping victory in last week's British elections has set off cheers among both conservatives and Socialists in France.

Both sides, competing in elections for parliament, see Tony Blair's victory as a harbinger of their own success.

For the Socialists, Labour's win marks a rejection of 18 years of conservative politics in Britain. "This signals a real success for the European left," says Socialist leader Lionel Jospin.

France's ruling conservatives argue that the key to Labour's success was its swing to the right. "French Socialists haven't changed, they've learned no lessons from the past," French Prime Minister Alain Jupp told a magazine after the Blair win.

Political tactics are becoming more crucial for the French elections, which will be held in two rounds: May 24 and June 1. The vote will be close, according to a poll released yesterday, with 36 percent of voters not sure of their choice.

This election is seen as critical for Europe's drive for economic and political unity. Conservatives, made up of the Gaullist Rally for the Republic and its partner, the Union for French Democracy, currently hold an 80 percent majority in the National Assembly.

To win, they have taken a cue from both the Blair campaign as well as the 1996 Clinton campaign: Claim center ground, even and especially if it means occupying opposition turf.

One conservative political strategist says the coalition's platform has been put together like the horoscope in a women's magazine. "There's something nice there for every sign," he says, speaking on condition of anonymity.

For the first round of voting, "we want bring on board as wide a group as possible," he says. For the second round, "we'll pull out the argument that if the Socialists come back to power, immigrants will flood the country," he adds.

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