He may run the country, but should he set the tone on taste?

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IN CARNABY STREET - one of London's main tourist traps for souvenir- hunters - street traders were yesterday hawking T-shirts, mugs, plates and tea towels bearing the face of Diana, Princess of Wales.

These, presumably, are among the "tacky and inappropriate" products to which Tony Blair was referring at the weekend when he condemned the frenzy to cash in on the Princess's death through books, films and paraphernalia.

A host of senior politicians yesterday echoed his criticism, including John Major, guardian of the financial interests of Princes William and Harry, who said he hoped that the public would "ignore tasteless material".

William Hague, the Conservative leader, said the recent speculation about Diana's death was hurtful to the boys, while Paddy Ashdown, Liberal Democrat leader, said: "We must not allow this to degenerate into bad taste and cheap money-making."

All worthy sentiments, with which few would disagree. But tackiness is a subjective concept, and some question whether Mr Blair should cast himself as an arbiter of taste.

Doubt was cast yesterday on the Prime Minister's credentials by Wayne Hemingway, chairman of the fashion empire Red Or Dead, who recently ridiculed his attempts to re-brand Britain as Cool Britannia.

"Everyone has their own views on what is tacky, and Tony Blair shouldn't dictate to the rest of the country," Mr Hemingway said. "If people want to buy these things, they should be allowed to buy them."

Other commentators attacked the elitism of the Prime Minister's comments, pointing out, for instance, that the sale of beads from the Princess's dresses - made into earrings, at pounds 1,000 a pair - could also be regarded as inappropriate.

In effect, the role of referee in all of this has fallen to trustees of the Princess's memorial fund, after lawyers for her estate won a court ruling last year that gave it control of the souvenir trade. Some money from products licensed by the fund goes to Diana's charities, but it is arguable whether the merchandise itself is more tasteful than the bootleg knick-knacks.

An advertisement in Saturday's Daily Telegraph magazine, for example, offered a gold-bordered porcelain plate with a picture of Diana in tiara and pearls for pounds 19.95. "May her light continue to shine", says the ad.

The memorial fund has also given its blessing to a beanbag soft toy, and to a Princess Diana scratchcard.

On Carnaby Street, traders defended their right to sell Diana-related wares including spoons, calendars, egg-timers and T-shirts bearing slogans such as The Queen of Hearts. "It's what the public wants," said one. It must be said that the Princess was adept at marketing herself in her lifetime, and that souvenir merchandise featuring the Queen has been sold for decades, without diminishing the respect in which the monarch is held.

Sometimes, though, the line is easy to draw.

It did not take the memorial fund long to dismiss one licence application: for a bumper sticker that read "Bye bye, Di".

Diana's friend, Rosa Monckton, sought yesterday to quash the mounting speculation surrounding her death.

In an article in the Sunday Telegraph, she said that the Princess had not been pregnant, that she had not planned to marry Dodi Fayed, and that conspiracy theories about the car crash in which she died were "farcical nonsense".