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Sunday 14 October 2012

The French do a much better class of scandal than we do

But the fallout leaves the same devastation, broken families and tattered careers, says Ruth Dudley Edwards

MOST sexual scandals plaguing the British-Irish isles are irredeemably squalid. Our criminals have taken enthusiastically to the trafficking of vulnerable young women for sexual exploitation. No week goes by without further reminders of how Ireland allowed its children to be abused by those who were supposed to protect them. The revelation that social workers and police in some northern English towns turned a blind eye to the corruption of underage girls by Pakistani sex gangs has caused disgust.

And now it emerges that Sir Jimmy Savile, that well-known saint, raped and molested children with impunity in his BBC and hospital playgrounds, for, as usual, those in authority didn't believe what they didn't want to believe. In Stoke Mandeville Hospital -- for which he had raised millions -- children were afraid of being taken to "Jimmy's room" and concerned nurses advised young charges to pretend to be asleep when he was near.

The French, however, have given us a laugh with a sexual scandal involving middle-aged powerful men and glamorous, successful women making fools of themselves and each other.

As the deposed Monsieur and Madame Sarkozy -- whose racy sexual histories take some beating -- enjoy a well-earned rest from public life, the spotlight is on President Francois Hollande and his partner, Valerie Trierweiler. Madame Trierweiler, a Paris Match journalist and TV presenter of political programmes, has certainly earned her "Rottweiler" nickname. In a few short months her aggression has alienated the media, her husband's Socialist Party and the public.

Trierweiler's offences include her infamous tweet that helped lose Segolene Royal, the mother of Hollande's four children, a crucial election, and successfully suing a celebrity magazine for publishing photographs of her in a bikini, even though they had also appeared in Paris Match. As a distinguished journalist wrote to her publicly: "You have shown yourself to be unconventional, imperial, amorous, explosive, unpredictable. And clearly dangerous."

So the French have little sympathy for Trierweiler over La Frondeuse (The Troublemaker), a biography which alleges her involvement in what one journalist has described as a "menage a six". While still married to her second husband, Denis Trierweiler, the father of her three children, and also a political journalist on Paris Match, she was having an affair with Hollande, who was living with Royal, with whom he'd been for more than 30 years.

However, allege the biographers, distinguished French journalists Alix Bouilhaguet and Christophe Jakubyszyn, for several years she had also been bestowing her sexual favours on Patrick Devedjian, a close adviser to Sarkozy and one of his ministers. Having failed to persuade Devedjian to leave Sophie, his wife of more than 30 years with whom he has four children and seven grandchildren, alleges the biography, she opted for Hollande, who dutifully left Royal. It was all "a bit like Jules and Jim", said the authors, referring to a famous Trauffaut film about a doomed love triangle.

France still has strict privacy laws and Trierweiler and Devedjian are threatening to sue, but the biographers have a strong defence on the grounds that "we wanted to underline the overbearing closeness between politicians and political journalists that is very widespread in France". They allege that at one stage in the three-way relationship, both Hollande and Devedjian were general secretaries of their respective parties.

It would be hard to argue that that revelation wasn't in the public interest.

Just to add an element of farce, Dominique Strauss-Kahn has announced the conclusions he's reached after his alleged assault on a New York hotel maid opened the journalistic floodgates to revelations about his sexual aggression and his involvements with prostitutes and orgies. It was his sexual excesses that stopped Strauss-Kahn becoming President, and there is plenty of evidence that he would have been infinitely better at the job than the hapless and floundering Hollande. "I thought I could lead my personal life as I wished," he told a French magazine plaintively. "I was naive. What may be acceptable for a CEO, a sports star or a showbiz performer is not so for a politician."

Debates about privacy laws are hot and heavy at the moment, but some issues are clear. Strauss-Kahn was a predator whose behaviour was so depraved as to be insupportable in a head of state. And the Trierweiler shenanigans demonstrate that political journalists and politicians shouldn't expect to be able to conceal affairs that reflect on their professional integrity.

Oh, by the way, having picked my way through this story, I've stopped laughing. The many victims include Segolene Royal and the Hollande children, Trierweiler's ex-husband and their children, the Devedjian family and Strauss-Kahn's loyal wife, Anne Sinclair, another political journalist, who has finally given up on him.

For years the French establishment thought they could get away with anything. They're learning the hard way that sexual incontinence can have disastrous consequences.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards