France: You coudn’t make it up

Sometimes, life serves you up a story which is so perfect that satirists throw their hands up in desperation, unable to compete. Such is the history of Jérôme Cahuzac, which has caused a political earthquake in France this week.

A former plastic surgeon specialising in hair transplants, Cahuzac, by some improbable progression, became a Socialist parliamentarian. An ally of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the disgraced former IMF head, Cazahuc shared the latter’s distaste for socialism, and fondness for money and those who possessed it.

So it was natural for François Hollande to nominate this card-carrying neo-liberal as Minister of the Budget, responsible for slashing public spending and making the lives of ordinary French people (eight million of whom live below the poverty line), even harder than it is already.

So where’s the banana skin? Well, Mediapart, the on-line news site the powerful love to hate, alleged last year that Cahuzac had an illegal bank account in Switzerland, which is amusing when you consider that one of his jobs was to crack down on tax evasion. Cahuzac went ballistic, and threatened to sue, and most of the French political and media class lined up behind him, to deplore the “Stasi” tactics of Mediapart, as one of his allies called them. When Hollande sacked him, after a police investigation began, he was widely seen as a victim.

Then, this week, the plastic surgeon turned scourge of tax fraudsters calmly announced that, yes he had had undeclared accounts in Switzerland, since transferred to Singapore. And he had lied, to the media, to the French Parliament and to Hollande, when he said he didn’t. But he would like to keep his seat in Parliament, please.

It’s too early to say what the longer-term effects of this scandal will be, but there are at least two possibilities, one good, one bad.

On the good (ish) side is the possibility that self-styled parties of the Left will finally realise that they have no choice but to abandon the idea that they can continually shaft their own natural supporters whilst cozying up to the rich. Even if it were a sensible idea politically (which it isn’t) it would still leave a series of unexploded bombs lying around like this one. But there’s also the chance that this episode will tip the disgust the French feel for their political and business class over the edge. And the beneficiaries won’t, as in the past, be the Socialists, because they are seen as part of the problem. Marine Le Pen, your hour of destiny could be at hand.


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