Hague attack over funeral backfires

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The Independent Online
An attack by William Hague on the "shabby" way in which Tony Blair exploited the funeral of Princess Diana backfired last night, after a senior royal source praised Number 10's "very positive contribution".

Mr Hague told BBC television's Breakfast with Frost programme: "The thing that has annoyed me most of all, and it has to be said at some stage, is the leaking of advice given to the Royal Family, the apparent briefings to the press, that advice was given to the Royal Family that puts the Government in a good light and the Royal Family in a bad light.

"Now that's shabby politics and it's bad government and it's no way to support the Royal Family in the future.

"I can't believe that that has been done with the sanction or authority of the Prime Minister. Prime ministers give confidential advice to the Royal Family, but he should prevent it happening at any time."

A Government source said last night: "It is a pack of lies". And although the Palace was embarrassed at any suggestion of it becoming embroiled in political controversy, the Royal source said there had been no question of the Prime Minister hijacking the event.

Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's press secretary, held two No 10 briefings for members of the parliamentary Lobby in the week before the funeral.

With the prior knowledge and approval of the Palace, his initial message was that the Palace and the families had decided to break with tradition by excluding some of the great and the good from the funeral guest-list.

After the press had started to attack the Royal Family for being out of touch, the second briefing concentrated on the message that some of the "common touch" ideas for the funeral - such as the invitation for representatives of the Princess's favourite charities to join the funeral procession from St James's - had been initiated by the Palace.

The media was also attacked for treating the grief-stricken Royal Family as little more than "extras" in a media-led event.

One source said yesterday that it had not been a matter of No 10 breaking confidentiality; the Palace had asked for help in getting the messages out, and No 10 had come to its assistance.

As for presenting No 10 in a good light, to the detriment of the Royal Family, No 10 went to extreme lengths to promote the role of the Palace - at times, frustrating reporters who were desperate for copy which was critical of the Royals.

Mr Hague said: "The Princess did not belong to one political party." If Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was chairing a special committee on proposals for a permanent memorial, then politicians from other parties should also be represented, he added.

Earlier, reports that both Prince Charles and Mr Blair were planning to abolish the Civil List, in return for the Queen keeping her pounds 84m annual income from the Crown Estates, which is at present handed to the Government, were categorically denied by both the Palace and Downing St.

However, the reports rekindled the debate about the future of the monarchy. The Prince of Wales has let it be known he wants to use the current climateto encourage major changes in the role of the Royal Family, according to sources close to the Palace. The Prince is also said to be determined that his sons, William and Harry, should have an upbringing more in tune with contemporary society.