Monsieur Charmant is back in business. Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of the ultra-right Front National, has declared that France's immigration problems could be solved "in three months" by an Ebola epidemic, the deadly virus that has killed 157 people in Guinea this year.
He was discussing the "demographic explosion" which, he claims, is allowing the French population to be "replaced" by immigrants, when he threw in for good measure: "Monseigneur Ebola peut regler ca en trois mois" - "Mister Ebola could put that right in three months".
It's not quite as bad as his notorious claim that the Nazi gas chambers were a mere "detail" of World War Two history, but it will doubtless have his daughter Marine Le Pen, now in charge of a supposedly new-look, less toxic FN, burying her head in her hands.
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Le Pen stood down as leader of the Front National more than three years ago (though he remains honorary president). However, at the grand old age of 86 and to the horror of liberal-minded Frenchmen, he is hoping to be elected an MEP for Southeast France in the European Parliament elections (held today in the UK, but not until Sunday in France).
And he's been on classic form during the final week of electioneering, with the Front National running ahead in the polls, neck-and-neck with Nicolas Sarkozy's centre-right UMP, while the ruling Socialists trail behind.
The Ebola exchange came up during a discussion on Tuesday between Le Pen and the Front National mayor of Cogolin, Marc-Etienne Lansade. Afterwards Le Pen told a rally in Marseille's Parc Carnot that his country's "immigration phenomenon" was aggravated by the fact that the majority of these immigrants were Muslims – Musulmans in French – a religion "whose vocation is to conquer".
Needless to say, the political establishment has jumped on his remarks to argue that all the talk that the FN has changed and become less virulent under Marine is just hooey. As Le Monde reports, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Le Pen's "dreadful" remarks showed the "true face" of the Front National.
Yesterday, quizzed on the Canal Plus show La Nouvelle Edition, Le Pen made a half-hearted attempt to redeem himself. It was, he said, a simple observation and he rejected the notion that he had made a blunder. "I do not wish to see people die – I am a political observer!"
Nigel Farage, meanwhile, is vindicated for having refused to allow Ukip to join forces with the FN in any far-right bloc in Brussels because the French party is just too unpleasant to be associated with. As he put it, the FN has anti-Semitism in its DNA.
Yesterday Farage told the Daily Telegraph: "I almost feel sorry for Marine Le Pen. I cannot understand what she has done to make her father dislike her so much. But these comments just reconfirm what I have always said that Ukip will not be having any sort of pact with the Front National after these elections".
With this latest poisonous outburst from the old monster, is it time Marine cut her father loose? Or does she know that only he can say in public what many of her party's supporters want to hear?
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