In France, the media seem to have an arrangement with politicians: lots of positive publicity in return for lots of interviews. Give pollies a hard time and you have no news to sell - and the French are hungry for such news, being a politically aware and reasonably informed society of readers and/or amateur activists.

Politicians' private lives are also off-limits. The French public have little interest, reacting to only the salacious with somewhat of a discreet smile. They do not care a damn how many mistresses their presidents have, only that he treats each with valour and honour (as long as the mistress is likeable).

Scandal is not like in the United States, Bill Clinton style. That's much too explicit and, anyway, none of the voters' business. Same with money: virtually every money scandal quickly dies and just about never does a politician lose his position, even when a lot of money has been ripped off the taxpayers.

But the latest case - now called "Moneypenny" - from the alleged fictional employee role of the Republican presidential candidate's wife, Penelope Fillon, has whipped up a media feasting frenzy. It's as if the country is saying enough is enough. Populism has reached France.


The scandal started with allegations that Francois Fillon "employed" his wife over a 10-year period, paying her half a million euro, ($734,000). Unfortunately for the Fillons, she declared in an interview some years ago that she had nothing to do with her husband's career, she was a housewife.

The figure has now almost doubled to about $1.4 million - a higher salary than her obviously fully employed senator husband. Not good you'd think in anywhere but France where, for some reason, any civil servant and politician of whatever political stripe can act entitled when it comes to money and few French voters mind. It sounds a bit like New Zealand MP's going on to become government consultants. In the French case, the vast majority of senators are former civil servants, thus with an entrenched sense of entitlement. In addition, left, right or centre, virtually every politician has graduated from a handful of elite universities - so they're an exclusive club.

It's unlike NZ, where our MPs can range from trade unionists to teachers to lawyers to housewives. I don't think our MPs consider themselves in any elite group. (Though you can sometimes see heads swelling once a ministerial portfolio is his or hers.)

France is a hierarchical society, where everyone not only looks upward but aspires that way too. As in obtaining a government or civil position.


In Britain, MPs are mostly of the Oxbridge elite, educated at either Oxford or Cambridge University. Conservatives also have another reason to lift toffy noses higher: a public school education: meaning private and definitely elite. The British press lambasted a bunch of their MPs for claiming outrageous sums and some were forced to resign. Australia's Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull has just ended the Life Gold Card which entitled former MPs 10 business-class trips a year. For life.

France is a hierarchical society, where everyone not only looks upward but aspires that way too. As in obtaining a government or civil position. A title is important here, from senior civil servant to mayor of even a small town, to president of - let's say - the regional rugby union. Status equals entitlement. When it's a national title, then, voila: you've made it. All the way to the top. And you better do more than respect him or else. I doubt 10% of Kiwi rugby heads could name our union president. Over here, he is accorded both reverence and not a little fear.

In the 1789 Revolution the people torched the chateaux of the nobility, at least those who hadn't treated the commoners well. But the French president resides at the Palace Elysees and is surrounded by all the trappings and ceremonial rituals carried out by no better than servants in uniform as if he is the monarch and his ministers the privileged court nobles.

French presidents believe they are royalty. Former presidents are perceived and treated as gods. But in this changed world of voters feeling more empowered, Francois Fillon's support has plummeted and 76% of his own right-wing voters no longer trust him.

But since it is France he cannot be written off. The French could just as easily block his chicanery out or, decide that, since the Welsh-born wife accepted the salary, she is in the wrong, not him. Let's leave the last word to Fillon's statement of last Thursday: "This (probe) completely tramples democratic principles."