Belfast Telegraph

Monday 29 December 2014

Francois Hollande and Shashi Tharoor are learning that political life will always impact upon the personal

Upset: Valerie Trierweiler
Upset: Valerie Trierweiler

I laughed over the Francois Hollande 'affair', even when Valerie Trierweiler's 'deep blues' resulted in her being hospitalised. In India, by strange coincidence, a similar story was unfolding involving Shashi Tharoor, once a high-flyer at the UN and now an Indian MP and minister, plus columnist and author.

Suave, handsome and talented, he's a prolific tweeter with two million followers. I have debated with him at conferences and met his third wife, the glamorous Sunanda Pushkar, while visiting India.

Last week, Pushkar was highly distressed over an alleged affair her husband was having with a Pakistani journalist, an accusation absolutely denied by Tharoor and the journo. Then, on Friday, Pushkar was found dead in a hotel bedroom. The post-mortem examination concluded that her death was 'sudden and unnatural'.

These two stories raise broader questions about male politicians and women. I am heartily sick of French commentators who blithely describe Hollande's capers as inconsequential, and show off about how sophisticated the French are about adultery.

In that civilisation, the hurt felt by betrayed women must be concealed, because it would be so un-French to complain. In India, too, women are taught to keep silent when bossed around, demeaned and violated by men.

Sexism infects all political institutions and too many male political players across the world.

Mistresses and wives choose politicians partly because power is sexy. And then find the life chosen can be perilous. Female colleagues are made to endure appalling behaviours because they are not respected.

Very rarely do we get women in politics who treat their partners or colleagues with such cavalier disrespect. On the websites you find lists of the hottest and sexiest female politicians: Julia Gillard, when PM of Australia, was subjected to unbelievably vile sexist insults.

The Huffington Post lists some anti-women comments made by US male senators and representatives.

In France, female MPs endure obscene gestures, wolf whistles and other insults. Last year, Philippe Le Ray made clucking noises when a female MP was talking and was (miraculously) fined for the rudeness.

Which brings me to the Lord Rennard row. Bridget Harris, former special adviser to Nick Clegg, has quit, disgusted with the way the Liberal Democrats have closed ranks to protect a peer accused of sexual harassment by several female Lib Dems. And disgusted with Clegg's failure to be a leader on this serious issue.

He witnesses the gestures and comments made week after week about female MPs' clothes and bodies. He knows how discouraged aspirational women are by that culture.

Politicians whose wives are in politics seem not to have these attitudes. But as Harris says: "There are plenty of sexual sleazebags going around in all parties."

There were times when I was asked to sexually service a minister in Thatcher's government and had to embarrass a Labour minister who kept clasping my thighs as we sat together at a table engaged in debate. And one Lib Dem peer got so lecherous I warned him I would write about him.

Such politicians, obviously don't give a damn about 'her at home'. And expect to do what they well like. Well they can't.

The personal, I believe, is the political, and the political cannot but affect the personal. Hollande and Tharoor are learning that hard lesson. Others must.

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