Deborah Orr: Even the French can't do presidential cavorting with any sense of style

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The Independent Online

So the highly conventional wisdom was right all along. People holding high political office really do need to be married. Look no further than Nicolas Sarkozy to see what can happen when a president is single. No one in the world – apart, perhaps, from the deluded Sarkozy himself – really believes his guff about standing against hypocrisy, because there's no hypocrisy involved in having a girlfriend when you are unattached. The hypocrisy comes when the entire culture colludes in helping politicians to hide things that they wish to hide.

Sarkozy, quite clearly, seeks to hide nothing. He confuses hypocrisy with discretion. What is astonishing about his behaviour is that he does not have enough control over his feelings even to consider discretion. Like a love-struck boy, or a pining young girl eager to let her old paramour know that she has a new one, he has lost all sense of proportion. His whirlwind romance with Carla Bruni is patently more important to him than his work.

Back when he was married, he did have at least one affair of the traditional French sort, whereby the name of his lover was widely known, yet was kept out of the papers. No doubt, if he had managed to keep his marriage to Cécilia Sarkozy limping formally along, as he did during his presidential bid, then his passion for Bruni would be conducted with all the secrecy shown by the men whose behaviour he now says he's standing against – Mitterrand, Chirac and so on. His hypocrisy is all the more astonishing because the only person he is fooling is himself.

As for the widely held view in France – that his conduct is cheapening French culture – and turning the nation into one as trivia-obsessed as the US – how can people not grasp, with Hillary Clinton's ubiquitous presence on the world stage to remind them, that the French way of dealing with presidential affairs is not so different from the American one. It took some doing to unveil Bill Clinton's sexual adventures, and considering how shabby they were, and how shabby his lies were in trying to cover them, the revelation has done him no harm at all.

On the contrary, Mrs Clinton's acceptance that she is married to the sort of man who used his great power to attract sexual favours from very young women appears to elicit nothing but sympathy from the older female voters making their presence felt so plainly. They can only be assumed to admire her loyalty to her husband, even though the extent of her own interest in doing so is plain to see. In the US as in France, it is the unseemly forbearance of the women involved, not the conduct of the media, that keeps the marital hypocrisy show on the road.

The conduct of the media is a separate issue, and another unpleasant one. Sarkozy fails to understand that it is demeaning to pander to a culture that enjoys nothing more than a picture of a woman in a bikini of a morning, whether you are a pop singer or a president's girlfriend, or both. He is as foolish as a Kerry Katona or a Britney Spears in failing to realise that inviting the media spotlight into your personal life also invites unhappiness, delusion, and sometimes disaster. France has had some silly and vainglorious rulers in its time. But Sarkozy has got to be up there.

* Is anyone else feeling that there simply isn't enough coverage of the US presidential race? It has emerged from its previous dull incarnation to become a contender for the reality television treatment. We need Big President's Little President. We need live 24-hour coverage of the Big President House. We need more tears. We need more studio debates on whether Mrs Clinton is letting down women by acting like one. We need more evictions. We need new contenders to be parachuted in. Most of all, we need one twice a year to keep those power-hungry weirdos occupied while America quietly runs itself without them.

These policy-makers certainly don't deserve any gold stars

There's something tragically lefty about the debate over nuclear power. For many years worries about climate change were dismissed by the right as the desperate rantings of bad losers determined to undermine capitalism by any means they could muster. Now that everybody – more or less – has been won over to the cause, a ruckus every bit as divisive as the previous one is now kicking off over means. Silliest point is the one which says that the adoption of nuclear plants will divert resources away from renewables, when clearly the thing is to leave no avenue unwalked. Maddest point is the one that says we can just buy our nuclear energy off the French.

* The minister for schools, children and families, Ed Balls, has promised legislation that will oblige all schools to "promote community cohesion". This sounds somewhat outlandish, as anyone with any experience of schools understands that this happens organically when parents get together in the playground to orchestrate the burgeoning friendships of their children. In our part of London, particularly notorious as a place where few of the schools are much cop, the community cohesion brought about by the schools is pretty limited, as most people who can afford it get their children educated privately, and miles away, while everyone else busts a gut to get their own children educated somewhere outside the borough. Unless Labour is considering the possibility of ending parental choice, and returning to the system whereby your children went to the school you were told they had to go to, then it's hard to see how the ability of school to "promote community cohesion" can be enhanced.

Unless, of course, this is just a way of reassessing the admissions policy for faith schools, which notoriously fail to promote community cohesion by fostering division on religious grounds. The Government has indicated that it is not so deeply in love with faith schools as Blair was, and while I find the rhetoric that demands their obliteration as being a little bit too dissolution-of-the-monasteries, there is certainly room for some new thinking on the matter.

First, the last thing we need is new faith schools. There are 7,000 state-funded faith schools and that is plenty. Second, those that do exist must be persuaded to change their admissions policy, and accept that any child who lives in their catchment area has a right to attend the school.

If an agnostic parent is happy to let their child have a religious education – and the amount of sheer cant parents are willing to adopt to secure a place at some faith schools attests that they are – then why should a letter from a vicar be needed before they can access this public service?

That way, faith schools will promote community cohesion. Anyway, since all religions tend to be fond of proselytising, you'd think they'd be happier with this system than with their present policy, which treats religious belief as the magic entry to an exclusive and self-reverential club.

* I'm confused by David Cameron. On the one hand he argues that Britain has to reclaim its public spaces if the scourge of gangs is to be beaten. On the other, he suggests that our public spaces are so easy to reclaim that their manicuring can be done on the cheap by unemployed people. Lack of investment in our public spaces – tennis courts that no one knows how to hire, parks without keepers – is part of the problem. Turning them into places cared for by long-term jobseekers doesn't seem like a solution. Giving people the real jobs of managing them does.

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