Pope on the ropes, and Maggie’s soap

When I became the editor of the New Statesman in 1998, several readers protested after I appointed Cristina Odone, a prominent Roman Catholic, as my deputy. She was not, they said, a "suitable person" for the NS, with its history of secularism and opposition to religious mumbo-jumbo. I replied that her religious beliefs were of no importance. My interest was in her journalistic skills that she was willing to put at the service of a militant atheist and socialist.

Now, Pope Benedict objects to the Equality Bill, which would outlaw discrimination against gay people, including in appointments to secular positions in his church. Does he fear that gays will seduce the faithful into buggery? I have no idea, but I hope Odone will not be excommunicated if I reveal she never tried to tempt me into touching saints' bones. In Britain, Catholics themselves were once barred from many jobs. It is foolish of the Pope to defend discrimination against another minority.

Super troopers

I largely approve of the super-injunctions that courts increasingly grant to those about to have their private lives exposed in newspapers. To be sure, the England football captain John Terry - who unsuccessfully tried to suppress reporting of his affair with a lingerie model - had a bad case. He exposed his own private life by financing his wedding from a deal with OK! magazine, performing baby-rocking actions after scoring goals and, on winning a "Dad of the Year" poll (sponsored by a food company), stating: "My family means the world to me." He cannot complain if newspapers reveal a different side to him. Trafigura, which sought a super-injunction to stop the Guardian publishing allegations of illegal chemical dumping in the Ivory Coast, also had a bad case.

But it does not follow that super-injunctions, which prevent even the existence of reporting restrictions being revealed, should be abolished any more than welfare benefits should be abolished because some claimants don't deserve them. In privacy cases, redress after publication is inadequate - the damage is already done. Equally, reporting of an injunction may intrude into privacy by creating public speculation. Max Mosley, the motor-racing boss who won damages from the News of the World after it revealed his sadomasochistic encounters, did not seek a super-injunction before publication, but would have been justified in doing so. Mosley never publicised his family life and his sexual preferences, unlike Terry's bed-hopping, were a secret even from close friends.

If newspapers believe that judges struggle to draw the line between legitimate and illegitimate reporting, they should establish an effective regulatory body that could give rulings without recourse to law. And they should agree to abide by its decisions.

Heated debate

As owners of an elderly gas-fired boiler, my wife and I expected to qualify under the government's boiler scrappage scheme for a £400 grant towards an energy-efficient replacement. But we had first to discover whether the boiler was "G-rated". We entered the brand and model on an official website. It told us the boiler was "likely" to be eligible but "a definitive statement" must be signed by whoever installed the new one.

So we contacted a heating engineer. No, he said, he hadn't a clue whether ours was a G-rated boiler, or what G-rating meant. Moreover, he advised, old boilers worked better than the new ones, which tend to need replacing after about five years. Gordon Brown, launching the scheme last month, said it would "slash household energy bills and carbon emissions" and "secure 250,000 jobs".

This is a typical New Labour announcement with its unverifiable promises, spurious inclusion of a large number (were those 250,000 jobs really threatened?) and failure to ensure anything actually happens.

Diana rigged?

I find myself in the odd position of sympathising with both the Daily Telegraph and the royal family. In his book on anti-Semitism, the lawyer Anthony Julius recalls how, while he was acting for Diana, Princess of Wales, the Telegraph portrayed him as a non-establishment "Jewish intellectual and Labour supporter" who was "less likely to feel restrained by considerations of fair play".

Julius calls this "mainstream anti-Semitism", differing only by degree from outright Holocaust denial. But I suspect the Telegraph was really trying to smear intellectuals and Labour supporters. Julius also reports that the princess said, apparently to convey sympathy for his Jewishness, that she should not have married into "a German family". Did she think Nazism was embedded in every German's DNA?

And why is this inconsequential anecdote shoehorned into this book? Julius and his establishment publishers, Oxford University Press, surely did not have their eyes on a prominent news story and a spread in the Sunday Times . . .

Soap matriarch

Margaret Thatcher's archives, newly online, include notes she made for her first party conference speech, apparently ignored by her speechwriters. Her handwriting is barely legible but an aide transcribed some words into capitals. Thus we can discern her intended climax: "Our case is personal responsibility. Therefore, the moral case is ours. When we have succeeded . . . we shall be entitled to have The New Palmolive."

The last word, on which the "translator" offers no help, seems improbable, but that's my best reading of it and Mrs Thatcher was, after all, a chemistry graduate. It's a diverting thought that Thatcherism was about a bar of soap.

Peter Wilby was editor of the New Statesman from 1998-2005

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 08 February 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Nightmare on Cameron Street