It has been a week (or so) of contrasts in France (at least in terms of the contrast between how the events in question would have played out in this country). I am referring to the allegations concerning the President and his alleged relationship with an actress. Can you imagine if these allegations had been made about a senior politician in this country? There would have been acres of newspaper coverage, hours of commentary on the radio and television and even questions in the House, not to mention the usual media door-stopping of the people involved. There was almost none of this in France. At press conferences, the President was not asked any meaningful questions into it and I cannot recall seeing any significant media coverage.
Why is there such a difference? Well, the fact that France has some of the toughest privacy laws in Europe may have something to do with it, but the difference goes much further than this. People in France don’t seem to think that what goes on in someone’s private life should either be relevant to whether they are doing a good job or not, or that it is an appropriate subject for intrusion by the press or the rest of us.
In this country, such intrusions have always been dressed up as justified on the basis that if x could lie to y/deceive y/carry on an affair, that must mean x would/could lie to us/carry out some other deceit. Frankly, I have never been convinced by this argument and the reality it seems to me is that it comes down to a prurient interest in the private lives of others. I can’t help but blame the Victorians in part for this! I do wonder whether if they had had a more grown up approach to personal matters we would not find ourselves reacting in this way when the reality is that we are all human and prone to human failings.