The success of Jean-Marie Le Pen in the first round of the French presidential election has sent shock waves through the political establishment in Europe.

Some of them have even reached across the Channel to Sussex where there are hundreds of French students at the University. They are debating the rise of the far right.

Why did Le Pen and his National Front party come second only to President Chirac to ensure he, rather than Socialist leader Lionel Jospin, contests the second round?

Le Pen played cleverly on the fear of crime felt by many French people, a dislike of immigration and a widespread feeling that traditional parties had nothing to offer.

He was also able to exploit the French electoral system, which allows all sorts of oddballs to put themselves forward for the presidency. They took away votes from the established parties.

There was also widespread apathy after a lacklustre campaign, which once again Le Pen was able to exploit.

It looks as if France has now woken up to the threat to democracy posed by Le Pen and the chances are that Chirac will easily see him off in the final round.

Are there any lessons to be learned in Britain, where far right parties have nothing like the strength of the National Front in France?

Yes - voting apathy can let extremism through, even in a sophisticated democracy.