The Press Saturday, July 26th 1997

"Apart from that, Mrs Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?" there, now we have got that word out of the way, it is time to move on to the rest of the week's news. The Bishop of Liverpool's  valedictory speech to the General Synod  drew unpredictable fire from the Right-wing newspapers. William Rees-Mogg is showing one of the infallible symptoms of Catholic zeal: a conviction that the Pope is wrong. His particular animus lies against Catholic social teaching and its condemnation of capitalism. Unemployment and the future of work gave him a chance to canter up once more on his hobby horse. Dr Sheppard, he said "is a deservedly popular figure, has been an excellent bishop, and is unquestionably a good man."

Then the boot went in. "What is wrong with the Church of England's policy on unemployment is that it would tend to increase unemployment, perhaps even to French levels. This could just be an innocent error, but it is not altogether innocent." I have always thought that much of the charm of Catholicism for intellectuals lies in the way that it enables them so charitably to distinguish between error and culpable error in the thought of their opponents.

"Bishops quite rightly criticise ignorant laymen who make theological pronouncements without having bothered to read any theology. But the bishops and the synod have failed to confront the intellectual case for open market theory. They denounce monetarism without knowing what it is."

One response to this is that the synod takes the same attitude to theology. But that is what experts are for. Debates endorsing reports are amongst other things an expression of trust in the experts who have produced the report. That is why Dr Carey putting the boot into Something to Celebrate made news. David Sheppard, replying in a letter, preferred to skip over the question of whether the bishops had in fact read Keynes. Instead, he went for the central part of the monetarist case: the belief that economists are technicians who can deliver morally neutral solutions:

"Rees-Mogg is wrong when he says that the cure of unemployment is not a moral issue. It is an illusion to suppose that the ends of economic policy can be discussed separately from the means … Christianity is not only relevant to the grand design of economic strategy; it is also about the way it is implemented in detail."

There was also an elegant counter-attack from Nicholas Stacey. "William Rees-Mogg may be right to rubbish the Church report … It would be helpful if he were to write a second article suggesting what policies he would adopt to give employment and so hope to the 26.9% of 18-24 year-olds in the Borough of Newham who are currently jobless, Or do we have to admit that nothing can be done to give them a future off the dole?"

Another ex-editor weighed in later that week: Simon Jenkins on the constitutional significance of Camilla Parker Bowles. He had been approached, he said, by someone who wanted to know what she could do to improve her image. The advice he gave was excellent. "Consort with the press and you tumble through the gates of Purgatory, to be consumed by reptiles, fire and torment. The only honest press agent was Hieronymous Bosch. The Prince of Wales dabbled in this witchcraft and burnt not only his fingers, but hands and arms up to the elbow. Press coverage is always asymmetrical. The public figure craves what the press will never give: a sauna pf public appreciation. The press wants what makes the public figure miserable: at best a one-night stand, at worst gang rape. Mrs Parker Bowles still has her dignity and public respect intact. Asking me to suggest a 'good' journalist is like asking Cleopatra to suggest a good asp."

Only this last sentence mars the perfection of his rant, for after all, Mr Jenkins has been editor of both the Times  and the Evening Standard. I do not think he has shed his scales and grown legs yet.

On the same day, the Times reported the latest legal defeat of Paul Williamson, when he was declared a vexatious litigant., He was pictured outside the High Court with Ian Paisley, whose expression was that of a dyspeptic aligator, as if he were regretting gobbling down the last tourist too quickly. Williamson had topped off his ensemble of black suit and shirt, dog-collar and briefcase with a plastic carrier bag in his left hand. The last time I wrote about him, he rang me to complain that I had upset his mother: if ever there was a man who should have Simon Jenkins on the wall in his lavatory, Mr Williamson is he.

From the ridiculous to the repulsive: the Mirror had a full-page editorial wrapped around a photograph of Michael Turnbull. "Should men like this be judging Prince Charles on morality?" "The issue is not only the comparison of Charles' behaviour with that of former Royals. It is the comparison with members of the Church who are exposed for immoral behaviour, yet get away with it.   Take, for instance, the case of a married young clergyman who was caught committing an act of gross indecency in a public urinal with a farmer form Hull. His punishment? The church, knowing all about his criminal conviction, promoted him to be Bishop of Durham. A post he still holds. Does he, as the fourth highest man in the Church of England, have a view on whether Charles has the moral values to be our future King?"

They might have rung up to find out, but that would have rather spoiled things.

"Harsh and difficult decisions have to be taken about Charles's future. And they cannot be taken on the basis of hypocrisy and double standards"   it looks to me as if Camilla's crowd have been ignoring Simon Jenkins' advice. Asking the Mirror to contribute to a debate on public morality is like asking Bosnian Serbs to run a Muslim orphanage.

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