How much more do we want to know about Francois Hollande? Up until a few days ago, he had hardly registered on the barometer of public interest here in Britain, save for his bowdlerisation by sections of our media as a madcap socialist, responsible for such crazy policies as protecting France's small, independent shops from the hegemony of the supermarkets, and ensuring fair competition among taxi drivers.
But now, if you read most of our newspapers, he's the man we're all desperate to learn more about, and the fact that we've been thwarted in this because they do things differently in France is a matter of deep consternation. There has been so much fulmination about the way that his press conference on Monday was conducted, about the easy ride he was given by compliant French journalists on the subject of his private life, that you could think that one of the historic betrayals of the free press had just occurred.
With characteristic rhetorical flourish, Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail, channeling Homer Simpson, called the assembled representatives of the French media "a salon of oyster munchers, the powdered, poodling, truth-smothering trustees of polite Parisian opinion". Others were equally indignant, the implication being that the British media have a much more open and public-spirited approach to sexual scandal in high places.
The facts are now well-known, and tacitly acknowledged. M Hollande, who until recently has lived in the Élysée Palace with his long-term girlfriend, Valerie Trierweiler, is having an affair with an actress who, thankfully for the newspapers and magazines, has been photographed in a selection of provocative poses. Answering the perfectly reasonable question about whether his girlfriend was still France's First Lady, M Hollande said: "Each and every one of us, in their personal lives, can go through difficult periods. And that's our case." And that was all that was said on the matter.
Of course, the status of Mlle Trierweiler, who is paid for by the French taxpayer, is a legitimate matter for enquiry. But the rest? How much of the detail of M Hollande's affair do we want, or need, to know? I don't hold with the idea that his private life is beyond the purview of the media. Private morality can have an influence on public policy, and our elected representatives have a responsibility to uphold ethical standards.
But the case of M Hollande is rather different. He has admitted to having personal problems which may be the cause or a symptom of a fracture in his relationship with Ms Trierweiler. Either way, do we need to know who did what to whom and why? And, to follow this to its logical conclusion, how often? Of course not.
The grubby details of his supposed extra-marital shenanigans would do nothing more than satisfy the voyeuristic bloodlust of slavering journalists. And here’s the thing: I’m not sure the British public is as eager to find out what goes on between the sheets as we are led to believe. I sense a shift in the prevailing mood. One unheralded effect of the hacking scandal, now playing out at the Old Bailey, may be a recalibration of what we feel we have the right to know.
- More about:
- Actors And Actresses
- Newspapers And Magazines
- The Daily Mail
- Trade Unions