Hollande’s affair – do you care? *Gallic shrug*

The President of France, Francois Hollande, held a a long-planned news conference today to launch policies to help France’s struggling economy. Along with cuts to government spending, he plans a ‘responsibility pact’ to incentivise firms to hire workers, and… oh, I’m sorry, am I boring you? You’re only interested in his liaisons dangereuses, the reported affair he’s having with the actress who is not his First Lady? If so, then you’ve a lot in common with UK journalists…

Yes, I guess France is “weird”, Alastair Stewart. After all, according to a poll published Sunday, 77% of French voters reckoned their President’s love life was nobody’s business but his own (and presumably his partner(s)).

Of course, it’s an interesting story, if you like gossip (and who doesn’t like at least some?). A story in which the French head of state’s alleged affair is revealed in part because his bodyguard delivers the couple fresh croissants the morning after is too delicious to ignore altogether.

And yes, there is at least some public interest defence. After all, the French First Lady – currently in hospital, apparently with les blues – has a publicly funded staff of five, as well as the use of official residences.

But the intensity of interest among our hacks in the French President’s private affairs is typically, grubbily, pruriently British.

I’ve written here before about my opposition to Leveson-style state-backed regulation of the press so it irritates me to see fellow anti-Levesonites like Andrew Neil tweet, “Is this what a Leveson-compliant press looks like?”

It shouldn’t take a judge or MPs to point out to journalists that, whatever legitimate questions there might be about Hollande’s affaires horizontales that maybe, just maybe, there are other, more important issues.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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47 Comments

  • Peter Andrews 14th Jan '14 - 9:07pm

    I couldn’t give a stuff about Hollande’s love life. The French press were right to be far more interested in the state of the French economy which is many order of magnitudes more important.

  • Andrew Tennant 14th Jan '14 - 9:07pm

    I’m hearing Ed Miliband is imminently going to demand an inquiry into how a charmless, economically illiterate, socialist, tragedy can consistently bag interesting women far more attractive than himself.

    In other news – yeah, no-one cares.

  • The UK press’s unhealthy and pathological obsession with (wrecking) everyone’s private lives is exactly why a mandatory minimum regulator is required here even though it is quite probably not necessary on a lot of other places. Just as the trade in Nazi memorabilia is quite reasonably criminalised in Germany, but not a problem in 99% of the rest of the world. This isn’t a difficult concept. Perhaps in a couple of decades if the UK press grows up a bit the regulator can fall by the wayside. Until that lovely day bring it on.

  • Spot-on, Stephen.

    The notion that the French people don’t think it is not the most incredibly is hardly difficult to grasp, but yet they manage.

    The British press seem to think of themselves as this most exceptional band of modern day heroes holding the powerful to account, when today has instead been a neat example of how they tend to be a self-selecting group of people in a powerful position deciding what we should care about on our behalf. “No, you will care that someone you didn’t and can’t vote for has slept with someone he isn’t in a formal relationship with currently. To prove it we will go on endlessly about it until you do care”.

    I just don’t care about Hollande’s love life and the British press’ utter obsession about it shows, frankly, how a vast swathe of the UK press are really just kids in a playground living in their own world.

  • Remember John Major ‘back to basics’? At least the French are honest about their dishonesty.

  • Bof.

  • Matt (Bristo) 14th Jan '14 - 10:38pm

    I neither wish to tell the French how to run their country, or to side with the Dacre tendency in the British press… but…

    Can you comment Stephen, on the widely reported (yes, by the British press) view that the French press are not aggressively questioning this issue in public as they believe they cannot do so without being aggressively sued under privacy laws unless there is overwhelming and accepted public evidence of abuse of power as part of a ‘scandal’ of this nature (ie something close to a criminal investigation in progress)? There is past evidence that former French leaders have used their office and its powers and its funds to promote and protect their behaviour in ways that (ignoring the British obsession with being excitingly shocked by the sordid details of extra-marital sex) would seem very suspect to most, so maybe the public interest angle is wider than you suggest.

    To be honest, the whole thing smacks of sexism, both by the British press (who love a wronged woman and a femme fatale to simultaneously force through stereotyped tragic roles for public excitement, with or without the evidence of tapped phonecalls written up in a disguised way using phrases such as as ‘friends tell us’) and by the French (whom I doubt would have extended the same silent protection of reputation to Segolene Royal had she beaten her ex-partner to leadership of the nation).

  • I don’t care at all about who this man rides pillion with. But I also don’t trust adulterers. Full stop.

    This is not something which ‘could happen to any of us’. It is something which could happen to any of us who chooses to behave like that.

  • I believe a politicians private life and moral standards are only fair game if they make them so. I.e. if they campaign on family values whilst having an affair or lecture on the sanctity of marriage whilst becoming the third party in someone else’s marriage.

  • I’m not sure how this can be an example of a supine press. They actually have press conferences with the person running the country, our press don’t and they don’t seem to even care.

  • It’s up to the French electorate to decide whether it’s relevant. They have that right. Politicians don’t have the right to conceal the facts from the electorate,

  • @Tony Dawson: In no legal sense of the word is President Hollande an “adulterer.” He is a bachelor and always has been. His relationship to Valérie Trierweiler is formalised in a sense (she is, after all, First Lady) but they are not married but partners. Julie Gayet is divorced. One might argue that Hollande has a moral responsibility to his partner that he has failed to uphold, and I think I can agree with that. But the word for a person who has committed Hollande’s dereliction is not “adulterer”; it is “cad.”

  • Paul In Twickenham 15th Jan '14 - 8:42am

    I couldn’t give a um… fig about Hollande’s affair, but we should all care about having an economic disaster on our doorstep.

    France has lost AAA from all the main rating agencies. It has an unemployment rate of 10.5% (and rising). Its work force have a reputation (whether justified or not) for sloth : the boss of Goodyear was asked if his company might buy a loss-making tire factory in Amiens. He said “I’ve been to that factory a couple of times. The French workforce gets paid high wages but only works for three hours. They get one hour for breaks and lunch, they talk for three and they work for three. How stupid do you think we are?” Now M. Hollande has apparently undergone a Damascene conversion to supply-side economics.

    If I was French I’d be much more concerned about what M. Hollande is doing to the economy that what he is doing with his vie privée.

  • A cad like Dominique Strauss-Kahn?

    Someone putting themselves forward to be leader of a nation is asking for a position of enormous trust. If they cannot even prove trustworthy in their private lives, voters are entitled to know that so it can inform their decision as to whether they trust them with their nation’s future.

    After all, we would regard a politician cheating on their taxes as something the public should know, even though it doesn’t relate directly to their ability to do the job, on the grounds that someone who is unfaithful in small matters is likely to be unfaithful in great matters of state as well. Why not cheating on their partner as well?

  • Stephen makes a good point about the unattractive mentality of the British press. But I still think Hollande’s comments show an astonishing hauteur, especially since he set himself up as the sober antidote to the Sarkozy circus, the man to restore seriousness to the Elysee who would not allow the presidency to become a soap opera.

    I doubt it will make much difference to his poll ratings among the French public, mainly because he is already monumentally unpopular because of his inept policies and sky-high taxes.

    Now he talks in grandiose terms about relaunching the economy, having apparently made the remarkable discovery that the French labour market could do with a bit of the hated Anglo-Saxon deregulation and that there needs to be a more supportive climate for business. Who knew?! In that context I think Janan Ganesh’s tweet about ‘grandiose windbaggery’ hit the nail on the head.

  • Andrew Colman 15th Jan '14 - 11:47am

    I like the French way. much preferring it to the puritanical judgemental attitude of the Anglo Saxon media.

    What business is a politicians love life to ordinary people . Provided the politician does a good job, I do not care who he/she slleps with.

    I am far more concerned about politicians using their power to promote the financial interests of themselves or close friends and family at the cost of the public as a whole. EG by helping private health companies in who they have shares to get access to lucrative NHS contracts.

  • Andrew Colman 15th Jan '14 - 11:56am

    As for Hollande economic policy , I would not right him off yet

    he is getting strong opposition from the financial industry mob who hope they can bully France into towing the line like they bully governments all over the world. Its this mob of financial gamblers, venture capitalists, right wing economists and journalists who caused the credit crunch in the first place and should be made to pay back their ill gotten gains.

    Hollands experience shows we need unity in international governments to bring the markets back to sanity and get basck the lost money for the taxpayers of the UK and other countries.

  • What business is a politicians love life to ordinary people

    It shows their character.

    The electorate deserves to know if someone is deceitful in their private life, to inform them as to whether they are likely to be deceitful in their public dealings.

  • Eddie Sammon 15th Jan '14 - 12:19pm

    Andrew, so should people who failed to make their loan repayments not share some blame too? We can’t just blame it entirely on the institution who gave it to them – it’s a two way contract.

    I’ve got my criticisms of banks and financial services in general, but they shouldn’t be scapegoated for the entire crisis.

  • Andrew Colman 15th Jan '14 - 12:43pm

    Eddie.

    Two issies

    (1) Bankers are supposed to be experts, that’s how they justify being paid well. Saying it was the borrowers fault is similar to blaming the patient for taking the wrong medicine that was prescribed by the Doctor

    (2 Most personal borrowing is for buying houses.) Many borrowers had little choice but to borrow. It was borrow or not get a house. We were told by all the so called experts that the “only way fro property prices was up” and we should borrow as much as we could,
    .

  • Andrew Colman 15th Jan '14 - 12:47pm

    Recent evidence is that the UK has failed to learn from the credit crunch. Credit is still being encouraged through the help to buy scheme whilst wages are being held down by the public sector pay freeze for example. Thus, the conditions are being created for another crash in a few years time

  • Eddie Sammon 15th Jan '14 - 1:10pm

    Andrew, I grassed myself and a bunch of my old finance friends to the regulator a few years ago for miss-selling, so I have no rose tinted view of financial services, I just want to see the right reforms in place.

  • The UK media is appalling. Their self-righteous stance on this takes hypocrisy to a new low.

    The UK media, with the BBC in the vanguard, now pats itself on the back for not be servile like the French press. They conveniently forget the cringing sycophancy when reporting “Royal stories”.

    The BBC will crawl under the doors of any royal palace wearing a top hat if asked to by the Windsor spin machine.

    How often do we hear them churn out the words of any royal press release without question ?

    We in the UK are treated to adulatory pap every time one of the royal spongers gets married, gets born, dies,. There was a brief period before the death of Diana when it unravelled . But normal service was resumed just as soon as Blair came out with his smarmy scripted spin the day after her death. We have even had a feature film with Helen Mirren to help paper over the cracks and revise the public memory to shift sympathies back to The Queen. Fifteen years later and we had last year the ridiculous fawning over the birth of the latest addition to the ‘in line to the throne ‘ gang.

    How often does the UK media cast a light on the grubbier aspects of the royal soap opera? The dodgy tax arrangements of the Prince of Wales and his Duchy are glossed over.MPs are vilified for their £60 k per year but Prince Charles can receive in excess of £ 19 million without question.

    Compared to some British people, the president of France leads an exemplary private life. Will we have to wait 75 years until Channel 4 does a documentary detailing what lives they are having at our expense?

    The UK media and the BBC in particular need to get their own house in order before they lord it over the French.

  • Many borrowers had little choice but to borrow. It was borrow or not get a house

    Um, isn’t that a choice?

    (I didn’t borrow. I do not own a house. That was a choice.)

  • Andrew Colman 15th Jan '14 - 2:48pm

    Note I don’t blame the salemen or the bank clerks for the crisis. I blame those at the top (directors in the boardrooms) who set policies on lending, checking borrowers etc.

  • Andrew Colman 15th Jan '14 - 2:52pm

    Tom, Suppose I was a Doctor and you were sick. I gave you some pills but failed to mention that there may be negative side effects on some patients and failed to check if you were vulnerable.

    You went away, took the pills and became seriously sick.

    I then said , it was your choice to take the pills.

  • paul barker 15th Jan '14 - 3:38pm

    When people are in positions of power then we have to care about how they treat other people. Not to judge in those circumstances is a sort of approval. Having seen how some people treat those around them I would not, myself choose to work with them or vote for them.

  • Suppose I was a Doctor

    Depends, I suppose, on whether you think ‘don’t borrow what you can’t afford to pay back’ is more like esoteric specialist knowledge only available to higher-degree-holding professionals, or basic common sense.

  • The electorate deserves to know if someone is deceitful in their private life, to inform them as to whether they are likely to be deceitful in their public dealings.

    If there was any evidence of a correlation in that respect, then that would be interesting. I’m not aware of one; there are plenty of couter-examples that come to mind, so you’d need a careful statistical study to convince me.

    Also, we don’t have any knowledge of the nature of Hollande’s relationship with his partner (and nor should we), so it’s entirely possible that he’s not been deceitful.

  • If there was any evidence of a correlation in that respect, then that would be interesting

    It’s up to the electorate to decide whether they think there’s a correlation. That’s democracy. If they don’t think the information is relevant they can disregard it, but they deserve t be fully informed.

  • Tom, to the best of my knowledge the electorate of the UK don’t vote for the President of France.

  • What business is it of anyone else’s? Is the relinquishment of any right to a private life really a necessary condition of holding public office? If so that might explain a few things about the calibre of the people who are willing to stand…

    Steve Way was spot on above – if a politician makes boudoir ethics a policy platform then that’s one thing because they could legitimately be accused of hypocrisy if they sleep around themselves. Otherwise everyone should follow the French example and keep their prurient noses out of other people’s private business.

  • Malcolm Todd 16th Jan '14 - 12:04am

    If you don’t trust anyone who would cheat on their partner, then I suggest you treat all politicians as people who would cheat on their partner, whether or not they happen to have been proved to do so. Trust is not an appropriate basis for the relationship between rulers and ruled, whether or not they share your views on the importance of who they have sex with.

  • If you don’t trust anyone who would cheat on their partner, then I suggest you treat all politicians as people who would cheat on their partner, whether or not they happen to have been proved to do so

    Do you also suggest I treat all politicians as people who would cheat on their taxes, whether or not they happen to have been proved to do so?

    If not, why do you think there is a difference between dishonesty in financial affairs and dishonesty in romantic affairs, in determining who is basically honest enough to hold public office? Personally, I think honesty is rather more important in romantic than financial affairs.

    (Moreover, I think that it should be up to the electorate to decide what they think are important factors in judging the character of someone applying for high office. To hide facts from the electorate in case they vote the ‘wrong’ way… well, that’s not democracy, is it? I mean, if you don’t trust the people to pay attention to the right things, why do you trust them to vote at all?)

  • @jbt: On the contrary — his whole point is to defend the interest that British journalists have shown in President Hollande’s sex life on the grounds that “the electorate deserve to know.” But as Hollande does not stand for office in the UK, and as British newspapers are not much read by French voters, it’s hard to see that they have any interest other than the predictably prurient ones — and appeals to the need to inform the electorate are spurious. I had thought that this was obvious enough not to require explanation.

  • Actually my point was that the French electorate deserve to know, and if the French newspapers are not asking the questions because they are afraid of the French privacy laws, then French democracy is flawed.

    (If it’s true that the French newspapers are not asking the questions because the French electorate simply doesn’t care, then that’s up to the French electorate, but the impression I got was that it was the fear of legal action that was inhibiting them rather than their readership not being interested).

  • Eddie Sammon 16th Jan '14 - 3:35am

    Andrew, personal responsibility must exist in some measure.

    Regarding Hollande: I think adultery is cowardly and unfair. If you want an open relationship then be honest about it. We all make mistakes, but I don’t see how saying “it’s nothing to do with us” is taking the moral high-ground.

  • Where did you get the curious idea that the French public are *unaware* of President Hollande’s situation? Or, for that matter, that the model of journalism you prefer is motivated by disinterested striving for the public good rather than the desire to sell more newspapers through sensationalism or to exploit a political opening?

  • Andrew Colman 16th Jan '14 - 12:26pm

    Tom and others

    What evidence do you have that President Hollande has been deceitful? Relationship problems always have two sides. Have you had you own private bugging operation going on over the last few years?

    Secondy, what evidence is there that womanising politicians perform any better or worse than other politicians?

  • Andrew Colman 16th Jan '14 - 12:47pm

    Tom, Eddie and others

    Yes, there is such a thing as personal responsibility, but in the situation where you have millions of borrowers and a handful of lenders as you do in the UK housing market, the lions share of responsibility is the lenders.

    Most borrowers borrow based on the situation at the time . They are not likely to predict that there will be a crash perhaps half way across the world which will cause them to lose their job or devalue their property. However professional lenders, particularly at the directorate level should understand these issues and take appropriate action.

    There has always been irresponsible borrowers, some who are trying to play the system, others who don’t understand what they are doing. Its my belief the number of such people has stayed constant through time and its and government attitudes and regulation that have changed.

  • Simon Banks 16th Jan '14 - 5:59pm

    What’s this Gaelic shrug? Is it in any way related to a Glasgow kiss?

  • Secondy, what evidence is there that womanising politicians perform any better or worse than other politicians

    The point is that it’s up to the electorate to decide what they think is important when they choose their leaders.

    If you start telling people what factors they should and should not consider when marking their ‘X’ then why are you bothering to ask them at all? Just appoint the best person for the job according to your standards and be done with it. It would save a lot of money to not keep having elections.

    in the situation where you have millions of borrowers and a handful of lenders as you do in the UK housing market, the lions share of responsibility is the lenders.

    Why? I don’t understand why the relative numbers makes a difference to the responsibility, perhaps you could explain how that is.

    Most borrowers borrow based on the situation at the time . They are not likely to predict that there will be a crash perhaps half way across the world which will cause them to lose their job or devalue their property.

    No, but they should surely realise that asset values can fall as well as rise, just as interest rates can rise as well as fall. they might not know what particular event will cause these changes but they should surely realise that they can happen and therefore plan accordingly.

    I know plenty of people who were offered ridiculous mortgages which they could never have afforded to pay if things had gone south, and who therefore refused them. Therefore if someone did over-stretch themselves it is their own fault for being stupid and they do not deserve sympathy.

  • Ed Shepherd 17th Jan '14 - 5:30pm

    If we had always excluded everyone with questionable sexual morals from leadership roles, then we would not have had Nelson in charge at Trafalgar and Wellington in charge at Waterloo.
    So, maybe we would all be speaking French now, anyway…

  • The point is that it’s up to the electorate to decide what they think is important when they choose their leaders.

    But that’s not true. Am I allowed to decide that David Cameron doesn’t sleep with his wife often enough? No, because I don’t know how often he sleeps with his wife.

    Can I read his tax return? No.

    Heck, I can’t even look at his iPod playlist!

    Your proposal seems to be that the electorate have the right to know anything they want to know and the politicians have no right to privacy whatsoever.

  • http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/prince-harry/10579168/Prince-Harry-swaps-helicopter-role-for-Army-desk-job.html

    We should not criticise the French media when we have to put up with nonsense like this.

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