A gift for Sarkozy – but who will have last laugh?

SO is Dominique Strauss-Kahn a serial sex pest? Or is he, perhaps, the victim of a conspiracy to tarnish his reputation?

It’s not impossible that both these things are the case. Or, I suppose, neither.

But it can’t be entirely unwelcome to French president Nicolas Sarkozy to see attention turned away from his own well-earned unpopularity.

And onto the alleged mis-deeds of the man who had seemed his most likely opponent in next year’s presidential election.

The French don’t generally take the same judgemental view as Brits do of their politicians’ sexual morals.

Traditionally, it seems almost a French presidential norm to keep a mistress and perhaps a few illegitimate children.

But the allegations levelled against Strauss-Kahn, of attempted rapes, are altogether more sordid.

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Strauss-Kahn vigorously denies those allegations. And indeed the nature and timing of the alleged assaults seem very strange.

Less so the timing of the allegations, which might have been judged to inflict maximum damage on his political ambitions.

The whole controversy has, however, raised his public profile hugely.

And what if the case against him in New York is proved to be totally trumped up? And what if he were to win a counter-claim against French writer Tristane Banon for defamation?

His status then as a wronged man, perhaps a conspiracy victim, might even work in his favour.

Nominations for the Socialist presidential candidacy are due in by next Wednesday.

At which point Sarkozy might have a good laugh and breathe a sigh of relief.

But with his rivals also thrown into turmoil, Strauss-Kahn might yet just come striding out of the thicket as the big beast to challenge the president.

So where has he come from? Apart from two brief ministerial stints in the 1990s, his most public role was as chief of the International Monetary Fund. Hardly glamour stuff.

And what exactly is the IMF?

Conceived during the Second World War, it came into being in 1945 with the aim of rebuilding and stabilising the international payments system.

Essentially it was about avoiding another world economic crisis like the one that had wrecked so many lives in the 1930s and paved the way to war.

It has so far largely achieved that goal, or at least contributed towards it. But it has done so at the cost of imposing punitive sanctions on countries that have erred, or just got unlucky, economically.

Not just on countries, but on their people. Such as – to take a currently visible example – the people of Greece.

In its own terms, the IMF “works to improve the economies of its member countries”. Which now number 188, including every major country in the world.

What counts as improvement is, of course, open to interpretation.

Whatever its purpose and achievements, the IMF is basically a very big bank.

Along with its close relative the World Bank – and despite the involvement of several socialist states – it is the regulator at the controls of capitalism.

Just what kind of socialist might be its managing director is an interesting question.

Maybe not the foremost question now being asked about Dominique Strauss-Kahn. But perhaps, in the long run, the most interesting.

WE live, supposedly, in a democratic country. Which means, in Abraham Lincoln’s great phrase, “government of the people, by the people, for the people”.

Not for the rich. Not for those who happen to have been born wealthy. Not for those who move other people’s money around and end up with a lot of it themselves.

For the people. For you, me and all the folk down your street and mine.

For the people who get old and need pensions.

For the people who are young and need educating.

For the people who get sick and need treatment.

For the people who get unlucky and need welfare.

With this in mind, and with thanks to my friend Alan Baker who dug out the figures – all from reliable public sources – I’d like to share with you a few interesting facts.

• In 2010, state pension payments in the UK added up to �117.2billion. That’s a lot of money. Not so much, though, when you divide it out among more than 10million people.

• The personal wealth of the 1,000 richest people in Britain totals �395bn – of which �124bn is owned by just 20 people.

• In 2008 the UK government spent a total of �581bn on pensions, health, education, defence, welfare and transport. Pretty much everything, in fact, that a government is there to provide.

• That same year it shelled out �850bn on rescuing private sector banks from collapse.

• This year the UK National Debt stands at around 80 per cent of GDP (that’s the total market value of all goods and services produced in the country).

• In 1947 the UK National Debt stood at around 238 per cent of GDP. Yet that was the year the Welfare State was formed. For the people.

Now take another, closer look at those figures and remind me who and what democracy is for?