Stephen Glover: Royal spinners have unleashed a monster
Media Studies: When you have led the media virtually into your bedroom you cannot easily slam the door
Monday 02 May 2011
When the Guardian carries a "free royal wedding souvenir supplement", and The Independent runs ten pages, we can agree that the nation – or at any rate its press – is in the grip of collective euphoria. As for the BBC! It assumes an atavistic tone bordering on deference when confronted by a royal wedding or funeral. If I found its coverage sometimes excessively reverential, what would a left-wing, atheist republican have made of it? The monarchy, we are endlessly told, has re-invented itself yet again by folding the middle-class Kate Middleton under its arm. Articles are written about the alleged brilliance of royal spin doctors in choreographing the celebrations, and there is universal agreement that William and Kate are a glamorous and engaging couple with lashings of what used to be called "the common touch".
What seems not to occur to the royal spin doctors is that a price will have to paid for this apparent triumph. Last week's festivities have awakened an appetite in the media that had mostly lain dormant since that night in August 1997 when Diana, Princess of Wales died in the Pont de l'Alma underpass in Paris. The wedding was not merely an affair of state. It was also an intensely human occasion during which William showed his love for Kate, and she for him, without reservation. Endearments were mouthed which we could easily make sense of. Whereas in previous royal weddings the participants were mostly stony-faced, on this occasion loving looks were openly exchanged. By driving his father's Aston Marin down the Mall, an L-plate on the front and "Just Wed" on the back, Prince William invited the nation to share in his personal joshing.
The trouble is that when you have led the media virtually into your bedroom you cannot easily slam the door. Yet, that is exactly what the Prince's advisers think they can do. Before the wedding, William asked to be given two years to live quietly with his bride, as Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip were left alone in Malta after their 1947 wedding. On Saturday St James's Palace requested the media to respect the privacy of the couple over the weekend and during their holiday.
Is this naivety or arrogance – or both? If you invite the world's media to share intimate moments, if you cheerfully involve them in mindless chatter about Kate's wedding dress and work them up into a general state of frenzy, you cannot simply turn off the tap when it suits you. The privacy of William's grandparents was respected in Malta because the media were still docile. By contrast, William and Kate have been marketed as international celebrity superstars, and the newspapers can never have too many pictures of them or stories about them.
The press loved the wedding because it had everything it wanted. Never again. It won't be long before it gets frustrated, whenever its access to the over-hyped golden couple is barred. There will be stand-offs and complaints on both sides, pictures snatched by paparazzi, stories that not all is going entirely swimmingly, and endless columns speculating about their state of mind. It will be impossible not to feel sorry for William and Kate and impossible, too, not to reflect that they and their advisers have stirred up a voracious monster they can never tame.
If the press is a guide, AV is lost
Perhaps when Thursday's vote on AV is over, some clever psephologist will write a book on the role of the press. It may have been quite significant. After all, few people outside the "political class" understand AV – and quite a number inside don't. If people want a steer, might they not rely on their daily newspaper, more than they would at a general election, when they are likely to have a clearer grasp of what political parties stand for than they do of AV?
If this is the case, it may be significant that the press is overwhelmingly against AV. Only the Financial Times, Guardian and The Independent have endorsed it. The Daily Mirror is unclear, reflecting the confusion of the Labour Party it supports, and seems drawn to AV only insofar as David Cameron is against it. Otherwise The Sun, Daily Mail, Times, Daily Telegraph and Daily Express are all opposed. These titles account for many times the circulation of those in favour. As an opponent of AV I do not complain, only observe.
A columnist with CIA antennae
Melanie Phillips, a fellow columnist on the Mail, and I disagree about many things – Iraq, Israel, and the extent of the Islamist threat in Britain, to name a few. Five years ago she wrote a book called Londonistan: How Britain Is Creating a Terror State Within, which argued that London had become a global hub of terror and was much mocked. The Guardian's Jackie Ashley described Melanie as "a bit bonkers".
Last week The Daily Telegraph published leaked American intelligence documents which show, in the paper's words, "how, for two decades, Britian effectively became a crucible of terrorism, with dozens of extremists, home-grown and from abroad, radicalised here."
That was Melanie's thesis. Are US intelligence officers also mad? To denigrate Melanie as mad is to take refuge in a sort of narrow playground beastliness. On this issue Melanie was closer to the truth than any journalist, and much braver than her detractors.
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