Bernard Trafford: Why should you put faith in the unfaithful?

Bernard Trafford ponders French President François Hollande and his 'extracurricular activities' which have hit the headlines

Marc Piasecki/Getty Images French President Francois Hollande
French President Francois Hollande

Headmasters have powers at their disposal with which prime ministers have never yet been invested.”

Thus Winston Churchill, who knew all about the exercise of power. A passionate democrat, he’s nonetheless not famed in history as being great on consultation. His unparalleled record as war leader is one of holding together a nation and commonwealth: but he ran a very small war cabinet. In peacetime he was less successful.

I’m sure he employed the term “headmaster” knowingly. Female equivalents, much as all women in senior positions, tend to operate differently!

In truth I’ve never felt the awesome power Churchill attributes to my job. On the contrary, I’ve spent a couple of decades being told I can’t change things I want to, the educational equivalent of Yes, Minister.

Every now and then, though, events make me ponder the nature of power, and of powerful people.

Take French President François Hollande. He’s in trouble, discovered by the French magazine Closer carrying on an affair with an actress, Julie Gayet, behind the back of his First Lady, Valerie Trierweiler.

Is she the First Lady? She’s not his wife, nor the mother of his children (that’s his ex-partner). Some wags are suggesting the title, First Lady, means in France simply the one at the front of the queue. Besides, now he’s announced he doesn’t even want a First Lady.

Understandably there’s been a furore. We Brits, mocked in France for our lack of interest in sex and our censorious approach to peccadillos which most other nationalities would applaud in a man, have been surprised by French press reaction. We might have expected the French media to take a line equivalent to the Australian expression, “Good on yer, mate!” After all, the Gallic temperament loves a dose of romance, a bit of dash, a sniff of wickedness.

But no. France has been critical, for several reasons.

First, Hollande is unpopular. They just don’t like him.

Second, he’s boring. Possessed of a charisma-bypass, wooden-faced he squandered any chance he might have had of laughing off the situation with a mixture of humour and nudge-and-a-wink.

Worse, he made the mistake of refusing to make any comment, attempting instead to bore a press conference into submission with a weighty pronouncement on the economy.

Third, and most damning, he drove to his girlfriend’s on one of those naff three-wheeled scooters. And wore a helmet.

Uncool. National leaders can do many things and get away with it, but looking silly isn’t one of them.

I feel sorry for Valerie Trierweiler: she’s reportedly seriously depressed. But are we nowadays so inured to politicians’ peccadillos that we overlook the one big question, l’éléphant dans la salle? Are we?

I’m not, so I’ll ask it. Why should a country trust as its leader a man who can’t be faithful to his wife – sorry, girlfriend, whatever? Call me old-fashioned, but I reckon someone proved untrustworthy in one major aspect of his life has forfeited credibility in the rest of it. Particularly when it involves something as big as, well, running a country.

Churchill exercised rather more power than he claimed. The free world at war depended on him. Now, admittedly you wouldn’t have trusted him to be sober 24/7: but I’m certain no one caught him cheating on Lady C.

I confess I have a problem with Holland’s infidelity. Were I a French citizen, he’d have just lost my vote.

Two final questions, then, with relevance to the truly powerful, to people who head countries or massive corporations and similarly indulge in extra-marital affairs.

First, how do they find the time?

Second, where do they get the energy from?

Someone enlighten me, please. Answers on a postcard: I’ll read them when safely, predictably at home with my first (and only) wife, sipping our cocoa. No scooters for us, no special deliveries of croissants. Just cocoa.

Arguably rather dull: but honest. That’s surely worth something.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
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