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Scandals

The
French may no longer be imbued with the romantic flair for which they were once
justly renowned but at least they seem as adept as ever at staging a proper high-level
sex scandal. 

Traditions
in such matters die hard across the Channel, of course.  President Francois Hollande’s ménage-a-trois,
involving a semi-famous actress, merely extends a long sequence set in train by
his immediate predecessors, Messrs. Sarkozy, Chirac, Mitterand and Giscard
d’Estaing. 

But
this time, even the French, normally so sanguine about such matters, seem
reluctant to applaud, or even to expend the energy for a Gallic shrug of the
shoulders.  The reason is that, while
such scandals may be entertainingly diverting when the economy is booming, they
are dangerously distracting when it is on the brink of disaster.  With the French economy in an unholy mess, the
national consensus is that Francois Hollande, who is widely held to have
contributed to it, should be burning the midnight oil not at his mistress’s
love-nest but at his desk trying to resolve the national crisis.  

And
then there is the manner of M. Hollande’s little nocturnal excursions.  In France even adultery is supposed to
be invested with a certain style.  In
that respect, too, M. Hollande has failed the nation.  Popping out in dead of night for a romp with
one’s mistress is fine, but not disguised in a helmet sitting on the back of a
moped.  The French seem more genuinely
embarrassed by this lapse in form than what happened at the end of it.

They
can’t even act out of character by feigning sympathy for a wronged wife. The
‘First Lady’, Valerie Trierweiler – nicknamed the Rottweiler – elicits no such
concern because she once wore the boot that is now on the other foot, first by
displacing M. Hollande’s first wife, Segolene Royal, then by attacking Royal in
social media rants when she had the temerity to run for public office.  Even the news that Trierweiler had checked
into hospital, apparently suffering from stress, failed to generate
sympathy.  “She had it coming, the cow,”
might be the English translation for the public response.        

The
British do these things a little differently, of course.  It is hard to imagine a British prime
minister – least of all, one might venture, the present incumbent of the office
– engaging in a ménage-a-trois and hopping on a moped to visit his girlfriend in
Belgravia for a bit of extra-curricular rumpy-pumpy.  What if he did, the lady turning out to be,
say, Joanna Lumley?  How would we react?

With
righteous moral indignation, I suspect.

We
still seem transfixed, half a century on, by the Profumo affair, in which a
junior minister had it off a couple of times with a good-time girl and then fibbed
about it to Parliament.  Authors are
still turning out books about how the Profumo case redefined the nation.  Our greatest contemporary stage composer has
written a musical about it, now playing in the West End.
  

The
only headline-worthy high-level scandal we’ve been able to conjure up since
then, involves not a president on a moped but a chief whip on a bicycle.  And there is no sex involved, merely a
question of whether the minister in question, while wheeling his bike through
the security gates of 10 Downing Street, did or did not call the security
policemen on duty ‘plebs’. 

The
London
tabloids, prepared to expend vast sums on hacking the telephones of celebrities
and politicians, failed for a generation to turn up anything as meaty as M.
Hollande’s misadventure. 

I
ask you, where have we gone wrong?   

 

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