It is the time of the year when, in a mood of post-holiday seriousness, we are all supposed to be considering matters of moment in international politics and economics. Unfortunately, as a result of the misbehaviour of a few political leaders, bizarre and inappropriate cameos tend to break the mood, as if Inspector Clouseau keeps blundering on to the set of an Ingmar Bergman film.
There is the prime minister of Italy with 11 women queuing outside his bedroom. “I only managed to do eight of them, I couldn’t manage any more,” he confided in a telephone conversation, which happens to have been taped. Then, still lingering unpleasantly in the mind, there is an image from the Sofitel Hotel in New York: a burly man in his 60s barrelling, naked and priapic, out of the bathroom in the direction of a maid, like a Playboy cartoon.
Nearer home, the Mayor of London â€“ apparently “one of Britain’s most accomplished Lotharios” â€“ has been portrayed in a new biography following his mistress of the moment down the King’s Road, hanging back a few yards behind her and wearing a beanie hat in a feeble attempt to throw the press off the track. “He makes the rest of the world disappear,” explained an admirer.
Finally, the President of the United States is described in another new book as being at the centre of an all-male elite, suspicious and ill-at-ease with women. “I felt like a piece of meat,” one high-ranking woman within the administration complained. “The president has a real woman problem,” said another.
When all these acts of gender inappropriateness â€“ too friendly, not friendly enough â€“ are put together, one has to admit that the home team emerge with some credit. All that Boris Johnson was doing, if his biographer is to be believed, was putting himself about a bit, in spite of being married.
Incomparably more embarrassing is the behaviour of little Berlusconi who now seems to be indulging a ludicrous Hugh Hefner-like public fantasy. Anyone who not only boasts of paying for sex but counts his conquests is clearly in need of help for his feelings of inadequacy.
Creepiest of all is Dominique Strauss-Kahn who, even as he pleaded his innocence on French TV, somehow confirmed the view of him which has been so widely publicised: a smooth, bullying man not afraid to use his position to get his own way. There have been few less convincing promises than DSK’s solemn pronouncement that, having reflected over the past few months, he has now lost his lÃ©gÃ¨retÃ© â€“ his thoughtlessness â€“ forever.
These adventures, and the way they have influenced the careers of the thrusting public figures at the centre of them, confirm an uncomfortable fact. Politics is closely allied to sex and erotic conquest. In public life, every interview, walkabout or chat-show appearance is part of a process of seduction. Potency and effectiveness in government are associated, in spite of all the scolding and head-shaking, with similar attributes in a person’s private life.
Of the four political and economic leaders who have recently had “a real woman problem”, it is not the randy and unzipped who are likely to be most severely punished by public opinion, but a President who has avoided scandal, but has allowed rather too much maleness at the White House to go unchecked.
The peril of too much talent
Few sights cause more intense, immediate pleasure to the armchair sportsman than a glaring gaffe by a professional sportsman â€“ a muffed smash in tennis, a dolly dropped in a Test Match, a golfer missing the hole from a foot. So there has been much chortling in the press about the moment when one of the world’s greatest strikers, Fernando Torres, contrived extraordinarily to pass the ball wide of an open net, having beaten the Manchester United goalkeeper on Sunday.
The fact that Torres is Spanish, brilliantly talented and not so long ago cost his club, Chelsea, Â£50m has added to the general air of amusement. It has been said, quite rightly, that a bog-standard English player would have scored in the same position â€“ he would have been too surprised and terrified not to. The Spaniard missed because he was too relaxed, too confident in his own ability. We really don’t like that in a player.
The Church’s embarrassing fans
In the increasingly bitter war of words between belief and secularism, it seems quite possible that non-believers are using dirty tricks and subterfuge. How else can one explain some of the strange arguments for Christianity put forward by the comedian Frank Skinner in a recent public conversation with the Archbishop of Canterbury?
As a Christian, Skinner objects to being associated with Cliff Richard, while atheism is “all about sitting on leather chairs in gentlemen’s clubs with Dawkins and Bertrand Russell”. He points out, quite rightly, that sneering at belief has become an easy comic routine for alternative comedians.
Yet some of the arguments presented by born-again Frank seem distinctly bizarre. There was too much apologising for the magic in religion â€“ the virgin birth, the resurrection, miracles, the parting of the Red Sea, angels. “Don’t give in to them,” he told the Archbishop. “If you believe in God, why shouldn’t there be angels?”
Dr Williams, a saintly and thoughtful man, must have felt like burying his great bearded face in his hands at this point. Talking to a TV comic was presumably meant to make Christianity relevant and modern. Instead, nightmarishly, he gets miracles and the virgin birth â€“ not what today’s Church of England stands for at all.
Independent, 20 September 2011