It is the time of the year when, in a mood of post-holiday seriousness, we are all supposed to be considering matters of moment. Unfortunately, as a result of the misbehaviour of a few political leaders, bizarre and inappropriate cameos tend to break the mood, as if Inspector Clouseau keeps blundering on to the set of an Ingmar Bergman film.
There is the Prime Minister of Italy with 11 women queuing outside his bedroom. "I only managed to do eight of them, I couldn't manage any more," he confided in a telephone conversation. Then, still lingering unpleasantly in the mind, there is an image from the Sofitel Hotel in New York: a burly man in his 60s barrelling, naked and priapic, out of the bathroom, in the direction of a maid, like a Playboy cartoon. Nearer home, the Mayor of London – apparently "one of Britain's most accomplished Lotharios" – has been portrayed in a new biography following his mistress of the moment down the King's Road, hanging back a few yards behind her and wearing a beanie hat in a feeble attempt to throw the press off the track.
Finally, the US President is described in another new book as being at the centre of an all-male elite; suspicious of and ill-at-ease with women.
"I felt like a piece of meat," said one high-ranking woman within the administration. "The President has a real woman problem," said another.
When all these acts of gender inappropriateness are put together, one has to admit that the home team emerge with some credit. Boris Johnson was simply putting himself about a bit, in spite of being married.
Incomparably more embarrassing is the behaviour of Berlusconi, who now seems to be indulging a ludicrous, Hugh Hefner-like public fantasy. Anyone who not only boasts of paying for sex, but counts his conquests, clearly needs help for his feelings of inadequacy. Creepiest of all is Dominique Strauss-Kahn who, even as he pleaded his innocence on French TV, somehow confirmed the view of him which has been publicised so widely: a smooth, bullying man not afraid to use his position to get his own way.
These adventures – and the way they have influenced the careers of the thrusting public figures at the centre of them – confirm an uncomfortable fact. Politics is allied closely to sex and erotic conquest. In public life, every appearance is part of a process of seduction. Potency and effectiveness in government are associated, in spite of all the scolding and head-shaking, to similar attributes in a person's private life. Of the four political and economic leaders who have recently had "a real woman problem", it is not the randy and unzipped who are likely to be punished most severely by public opinion, but a President who has avoided scandal, while allowing rather too much maleness at the White House to go unchecked.Reuse content