Blair faces backlash over royal apology

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The Independent Online

Chief Political Correspondent

Tony Blair was facing a backlash from Labour MPs after ordering an apology to Prince Charles from his Shadow Welsh Secretary over criticism of the Prince of Wales.

MPs urged the Labour leader to allow an open debate on the monarchy following the abject apology issued by Ron Davies for saying Prince Charles was not fit to be King.

The appeals for a debate about a republic were joined by a senior Tory backbench MP who called for a "Grand Remonstrance" to tell the Royal Family its behaviour was "demeaning".

The former diplomat George Walden, Tory MP for Buckingham, broke ranks to come to the aid of Mr Davies. In an astonishing side-swipe at the Prime Minister, Mr Walden accused John Major of "low-life politics", for leadings demands that Mr Blair sack Mr Davies.

"When you think of all these sordid money deals, when you think of all these blabbing lovers, these duchesses and princesses - are we supposed to defer to these people?" Mr Walden asked.

"I think it would very nice - in an ideal world - if the Government and Opposition could get together and send a message from the House of Commons to the Royal Family - a Grand Remonstrance, suitably delicately phrased - that you are actually demeaning yourselves and this country", Mr Walden said.

He said the Prime Minister's call for Mr Davies to be sacked was "deeply undignified and silly. I think it is an example of low-life politics with which people out there are becoming increasingly disillusioned."

Sources close to the Labour leader denied Mr Blair was trying to stifle debate about the Monarchy. "Ron apologised because he made some personal comments about the Prince of Wales talking to vegetables, and allowing his children to kill wild animals, which were thought not really appropriate," a Labour source said.

Nick Ainger, Labour MP for Pembroke, said the future of the Royal Family should not only be debated by Labour's hard left, but by the whole country.

"We seem to be afraid of tackling these issues. It is quite fundamental to our constitution whether the head of state should be elected or they should be appointed on a hereditary principle," he said.

Paul Flynn, MP for Newport West, said the job should not be left to "the accidents of birth".

Llewellyn Smith, Labour MP for Blaenau Gwent, said: "People increasingly see that it is indeed an anachronism."

Senior Labour Party figures close to Mr Blair privately admit they are republicans, but official Labour policy makes it clear Labour supports a monarchy. Labour leaders have raised the prospect of a "slimmed down" Monarchy, but all the main parties believe a pledge to replace the Queen with a President would be a vote loser.