Diana - The Last Farewell: Old Lefties coming to terms with the tearful revolution

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
"And what are you doing here?" asked a woman I vaguely recognised. I blushed slightly. Here I was, an old lefty republican with a fundamental dislike of everything that the Royal Family represents standing with the mourning crowds outside Buckingham Palace. It was like being caught by one's partner leching at the topless beauties on a St Tropez beach.

It was even more embarrassing that the questioner, Jill, is a Labour Westminster councillor who is not ashamed to describe herself as being on the Hard Left.

But no. She had come deliberately, having realised that this was an event likely to be unique in our lives. And I, too, was quickly taken up with the almost revolutionary atmosphere of the occasion, my cynicism washed away by the tears.

We started a wonderful and public debate about what this People's Show was about. Jill felt strongly that the old lefties, like Sara Maitland in yesterday's The Independent, who were disdainful of the outpouring of emotion, were making the same mistake that the Left had always made - failing to understand the emotional and spiritual sides of people's lives. It was the same failure that had created a Communism which aimed to satisfy people's material wants without any recognition of their other needs.

The atmosphere at the various palaces was not the mawkish, fawning gathering that might follow the death of the Queen Mother but something much deeper and more interesting. The Mall outside Buckingham Palace had quickly been closed after Diana's death, so the people were taking over the streets.

Jill likened it to a pilgrimage, while I suggested it was like the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Wall, in this case was the barrier behind which the Royal Family has traditionally hidden away from the people and clearly it was crumbling as concession after concession was made to the people's feelings over the arrangements for the funeral.

Indeed, just as at the Wall, political debate broke out spontaneously. Jill and I found ourselves in the middle of a lively discussion as other people joined in without the usual British reticence. They were universally sceptical about the old Royals and their future.

The debate reflected the fundamental ambivalence about the gathering. On the surface, it was a traditional Royal occasion, and of course, there were a few died in the wool Royalists. But there were many, many more who were angry at the way that the Windsors had behaved.

Of course, it would be great if the old traditional lefty causes, like the miners' strike, had attracted millions like this onto the streets. But in its way, this was a revolutionary movement which will bring about significant changes to the monarchy. Whether these forces destroy the old order or reinforce it will depend on how the Windsors behave in the next few months and how much the Republican feelings which Diana's life and death have engendered are built upon.