Seduction IMF-style, the Queen in Ireland and the cheek of Hugh Grant

Supporters of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the International Monetary Fund, suggest the allegation that he raped an employee of a New York hotel must be invented by unidentified conspirators. According to his (male) biographer, he "tries to seduce and not to force". Why would a successful serial seducer need to throw himself on chambermaids?

The answer is that serial seduction, like rape, is an expression of power and a clear line cannot easily be drawn between the two. I seduce, you harass, he rapes. Our ancestors understood that better than we do, as the novels of Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy show.

Rich and powerful men usually reserve their more polite and protracted advances for women of their own class and use a rougher, more peremptory approach for those from the lower orders. More words and longer words, even a few witticisms, will be used to woo women of high status. A maid, however, can hardly expect an IMF managing director to waste valuable time on chatting her up. On the approach of his naked body, her duty is instantly and gratefully to lie on her back, or assume whatever posture he prefers. Indeed, if one account is accurate, Strauss-Kahn has a robust attitude even to female journalists, who may be thought to be of slightly higher social status than chambermaids.

Strauss-Kahn is supposed to be a socialist, a term that in most western countries is now used for anybody who prefers Keynes (in fact a liberal) to Friedman. But he moves in elite circles where people become accustomed to getting what they want when they want it. A sexual stirring demands instant satisfaction, along with desires for grand apartments, expensive suits and swish cars. The allegations against Strauss-Kahn may turn out to be false but his elevated position does not make his innocence more likely.

Under pressure

However much information emerges about the origins of Tony Blair's notorious dossier on the case for invading Iraq, nobody can admit that
a terrible injustice was done to the former BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan. According to evidence to the Chilcot inquiry from Michael Laurie of the Defence Intelligence Staff, the wording of the dossier was "developed with care" in order to make the best case for war "out of sparse and inconclusive intelligence".

This shows, writes the former BBC chairman Christopher Bland in the Independent, that "the political pressure brought to bear on the intelligence community . . . was totally improper". Yet, Bland continues, Gilligan was in "serious error" in stating on the Today programme that the government had "sexed up" the case for war. Perhaps I am being obtuse,
but I cannot see the distinction between bringing "improper pressure" on those providing material for the dossier and "sexing up" the case for war. Another conjugation comes to mind: I sharpen the words, you stretch the evidence, he sexes it up.

Above the Laws?

Sometimes the behaviour of top politicians passes all understanding. David Laws, fleetingly a Lib Dem cabinet minister, is a millionaire. So why, if he feared a legitimate expenses claim would breach his privacy, did he need to claim expenses at all? Chris Huhne, still a Lib Dem minister as I write, is even richer. He denies that, while an MEP, he avoided a driving ban by claiming his wife was driving when his car was filmed speeding. But we know he later lost his licence anyway and then his wife, despite having a busy career of her own, drove him everywhere, no doubt adding to her sense of grievance when he later left her for another woman. So, whatever the truth, Huhne might have saved himself a deal of trouble by using
his wealth to employ a chauffeur, which is far from unprecedented even among Labour MPs (no names, no pack drill). But not on expenses.

Pomp and scary money

Can anyone explain the point of the Queen's state visit to Ireland? Or of any state visits, for that matter? The Queen will cost Irish taxpayers £26m in security costs alone in the middle of a harsh austerity programme. When Barack Obama comes to Britain, it will also cost a few million, though he will bring with him his own eight-tonne Cadillac to resist missile attacks. The costs in lost economic activity and inconvenience to ordinary folk while the ruling classes harken to 21-gun salutes, exchange lavish gifts and attend white-tie dinners are unquantified.

Though Henry VIII's meeting with the French king at the Field of the Cloth of Gold is sometimes quoted as the earliest example, state visits as we know them, like many supposedly ancient customs and institutions, are a comparatively recent invention, dating back no further than Victorian times. Before telephones and television, when rulers rarely got to talk to each other and the populace had no idea what foreign leaders looked or sounded like, they may have had some point. Now, it is hard to believe that trade and diplomatic contacts, which are supposed to accompany such occasions, could not be achieved less expensively and fussily, perhaps at the international conferences that already bring national leaders together several times a year.

About our boy

During a BBC2 Newsnight debate on privacy and superinjunctions, the NS's promising trainee reporter Hugh Grant asked the Scottish editor of another weekly magazine (the name of which was flashed on the screen, but I wasn't wearing my glasses): if you were spanked in a nappy by a girl dressed as a nun, would anyone have the right to know? Impudent pup! Would he have dared ask this question of Ayatollah Dacre, "editor" of the Daily Mail?

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 23 May 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Obama 2.0