Fillon: Schadenfreude à la française.

The German word schadenfreude –  usually translated as something like “a malicious delight in the unhappiness of others” – refers to a concept that’s not especially nice, and by and large it’s something that we shouldn’t cultivate. But there are exceptions.

Most of us like seeing the hypocritical, the arrogant and the corrupt cut down to size, and no matter how many charitable feelings we manage to conjure up, there will be occasions when we think that somebody’s misfortunes are richly deserved: karma, if you like, with added moral sauce. In a world where the rich, powerful, arrogant and hypocritical seem to get away with everything all the time, it’s hard not to see the humbling of one of them as the limited and temporary reinstatement of a bit of moral order in the universe.

So after a year which featured, among other things, the humiliation of David Cameron and Hilary Clinton, and the apparent banishment from politics of Nicholas Sarkozy (but watch it, the slimy bastard may yet be back), we start 2017 with the hilariously entertaining crucifixion of François Fillon. There’s a kind of mad narrative purity in the Fillon story, almost as if he was setting himself up for a fall for twenty years, deliberately cultivating a false and hypocritical image and then making it easy for people to find out what he had done. Whatever the final result, the Fillon story will go down as an archetype of how to destroy a political career through stupidity and arrogance.

Consider. Here’s a man whose Presidential programme involves forcing people to wait longer for their pensions, and getting rid of half a million public sector workers, while wielding the lash of austerity with evident relish. Here’s a man who mentions his own honesty, his own integrity and the need for an “irreproachable” President in every speech, and takes the whole family off to church on Sunday. Here is a man who won the primary elections of the main right-wing party by contrasting himself with Juppé (who had served a suspended prison sentence for corruption) and Sarkozy, about whom nothing else need be said. Here’s a man who even his detractors thought was basically honest in a deeply corrupt political system.

But here’s a man who was employing his wife, or arranging for her to be employed, as his parliamentary assistant on and off for nearly twenty years. He somehow never got around to mentioning that fact, and indeed both he and she denied that she was working, and nobody ever seems to have seen her in her alleged place of employment. So he (or she or both) pocketed nearly a million Euros, more than most French people ever earn in a lifetime, at the taxpayer’s expense, and for doing no obvious work. Oh, and there was her non-existent but well-paid media job, the use of his children as assistants when they were both students, the mysterious consultancy with unidentified clients, and whatever new revelation will have surfaced by the time I finish typing this.

So here’s a man, one is tempted to say, who either has a political death-wish, or is so arrogant that he thinks the law and the rules don’t apply to him. Here’s a man who lied, with the complicity of his wife, over the course of twenty years, about something where the truth could easily be demonstrated. Here’s a man who disobeyed Denis Healey’s first rule of politics – when you’re in a hole, stop digging – and has flailed around, offering excuses and explanations which blow up in his face almost as soon as they are uttered. Here’s a man who doesn’t seem to actually deny the accusations, but who presents himself as a the innocent victim of a vast left-wing conspiracy. Here’s the man who would probably have been President of France.

Here’s a man who richly deserves everything he’s currently undergone, and everything he’s about to get. I don’t feel sorry for him at all.

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.