E Jane Dickson: The Bachelor Boy has played a blinder

The revelation might have been more shocking if Sir Cliff had turned out to be a secret romancer of chorus girls
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The Independent Online

"News stops at the bedroom door." This is the enshrined view of the French media expressed this week by the satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaîné in response to speculation about the unborn child of France's minister for justice, Rachida Dati. It is also, one suspects, French for "we don't know who the father is".

The fourth estate in France has traditionally prided itself on its separation of public morals and private lives. The situation is, admittedly, complicated by a President who courts the front page like Rumpelstiltskin on Viagra, but it's a commanding principle. You can argue freedom of the press until les vaches come home (and there has been strong feeling in the Sarkozy era about undue political pressure on journalists); you can point to Paris-Match, whose slavish celebrity interviewers make Hello! magazine look like the Stasi; it remains the unshakeable stance of the French to shake their heads in worldly bemusement over the anglophone obsession with boudoir behaviour.

The tale of two babies illustrates this cultural stand-off. In the French corner, you have the superbly contained Dati who, unmarried and pregnant for the first time at 42, declines to discuss her child's conception. "My private life is complicated," she says with the killer Gallic combo of hauteur and mystère. "I am keeping it off-limits to the media."

Compare this with the desperate finagling of the US Republican press corps as it attempts to gloss the teenage pregnancy of Sarah Palin's daughter (as if it's just what a right-wing campaigner for family values needed to speed her on her way to the White House ) and consider which is the more evolved and humane approach. Because if any campaigner for family values can tell me a better way to split up a fragile pair of teenage parents-to-be than bundling them into blazers and pearls and parading them before the world's media, I'd love to hear it.

It could, of course, be argued that it's easy for a justice minister, of all people, to guard her mystery with the cast-iron privacy laws of France ranged about her. It takes a real pro to court a (free) press while maintaining a private life. And what better example than our own Cliff Richard who, after 40 years of iron discretion on the subject, has delicately alluded to his "close friendship" with a former Roman Catholic priest? True, the revelation might have been more shocking if Sir Cliff had turned out to be a secret romancer of chorus girls, but who can blame him when he says, in his new autobiography: "As for my sexuality, I am sick to death of the media's speculation about it. What business is it of anyone else's what any of us are as individuals?"

Doubtless there will be disappointment, in some quarters, that Cliff has not put his cards more squarely on the table. But why should he? He's not a hypocrite. Where his views might be politically useful, as in his support for same-sex marriage, they are unequivocal. Indeed, few politicians have steered a more skilful course between suiting themselves and satisfying their constituencies. The Bachelor Boy, in short, has played a blinder.

It's just a shame that the live-and-let-live principles of one of the country's most publicly committed Christians is not better represented in the Church of England. This week Canon Peter Jones, treasurer of Bangor Cathedral, threatened to resign if Dr Jeffrey John, the gay dean of St Albans, is appointed Bishop of Bangor. It is not enough, apparently, that Dr John, who celebrated a civil partnership with the Rev Grant Holmes two years ago, has undergone the indignity of declaring his relationship "non-physical" in accordance with the absurd clerical ruling that homosexuals should be celibate; Canon Jones and many others in the Anglican Communion still consider the whole business to be "sinful and wrong" and it is, as a matter of conscience, their right – some might say their duty – to say so.

However, the disappointing result of this year's Lambeth conference, where the Archbishop of Canterbury announced a moratorium on consecrating gay bishops and blessing same sex marriages, appears to militate against a genuine "free vote" in this regard. It was clear long before his private correspondence stating that same- sex relationships "might reflect the love of God in a way comparable to marriage" was splashed across the tabloids that Rowan Williams is not an illiberal man. Yet in his capacity as spiritual leader of the world's 77 million Anglicans (and mindful of splits and schisms among them) he feels unable to carry through those convictions.

It is not surprising, nor necessarily wrong, that the church should be the last remaining sphere where there is genuine collision between private lives and public office. It's not just the news that needs to stop at the bedroom door.