MPs back Earl's call to liberate Princes

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Criticism of the Royal Family continued among mourners at Kensington Palace yesterday as politicians and the public backed Earl Spencer's insistence that Princes William and Harry should not be brought up solely by the Windsors.

On a day when Paddy Ashdown, leader of the Liberal Democrats, agreed that the population was behaving more like citizens than subjects, there was a growing feeling that the boys had become the People's Princes.

Tony Blair kept a long-standing appointment for lunch with the Queen at Balmoral which was followed by an audience during which they were certain to have discussed the role of the monarchy into the millennium.

Earlier the Prime Minister ruled out a privacy law, but called on newspaper editors to exercise more restraint in their pursuit of celebrities. He described criticism of the royals as "unfair".

The long-term implications of Earl Spencer's devastating attack on the Royal Family from the pulpit of Westminster Abbey on Saturday were still being assessed yesterday, but there was widespread support for his words.

During the tribute to his sister, Diana, Princess of Wales, he said: "We will not allow [the princes] to suffer the anguish that used regularly to drive you to tearful despair.

"And beyond that, on behalf of your mother and sisters, I pledge that we, your blood family, will do all we can to continue the imaginative way in which you were steering these two exceptional young men, so that their souls are not simply immersed by duty and tradition but can sing openly, as you planned."

As he delivered his attack, promising to encourage the boys in their royal role while giving them "experience of as many different aspects of life as possible", the Queen was sitting only yards away. The number of people who witnessed the rebuke on television was put at 2.5 billion.

The spread of applause from outside the Abbey to the mourners inside after he delivered his attack was described by Mr Ashdown yesterday as "an extraordinarily symbolic moment".

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend, he said: "I think there is a sense in which the terms of the relationship between government and the governed has altered in the last week." Asked whether he felt that people were behaving like citizens rather than subjects, he replied: "I think that's accurate ... There is perhaps a new self-confidence about people expressing a view which is heard and responded to. And something deeper than that, I think they are telling us what kind of society they want.

"They want a compassionate society, a fairer society, a more decent society, a more just society. The reason why Diana touched the hearts of so many in Britain was because she expressed an equality about society that I think they believe their leaders ought to be able to deliver more effectively."

Labour and Tory MPs agreed that the style of Diana's parenting should be continued by the Spencer side of the family. "I totally approve of what Earl Spencer said," said Andrew Mackinlay, Labour MP for Thurrock. "It would serve to maintain the breath of fresh air which the Princess brought to the monarchy. It would help to blow away the cobwebs."

Michael Fabricant, Conservative MP for Lichfield, said: "It would be a shame if the influence of the Spencer family were lost. This is not only important for Princes William and Harry, but such an influence from outside like this would have the consequence of making the monarchy more attractive to the population at large and will safeguard it for the next century."

At Kensington Palace, Diana's former home, tributes and flowers continued to be laid. Many of those who came to praise her, however, were critical of the Windsors.

Harry Hoyland, 36, from Leicester, said: "The only hope of saving the monarchy is to protect these boys from that dysfunctional family. People saw Diana's approach as the way forward for the royals and if they are one-tenth as sensitive and caring as she was, then they will be much more in touch with the feelings of the people."

Michelle Ellis, a hairdresser from Birmingham, said: "There was amazing support for Diana's brother after his speech. I think a royal upbringing would be much too regimented. I hope they get to spend lots of time with the Spencers and I hope that the Royal Family are not as stiff with the princes as they were with Diana."

However, not everyone agreed. Dr David Starkey, a constitutional historian at the London School of Economics, said the Earl's speech amounted to "calculated vengeance".

"The speech showed on the one hand a desire to look after the children, but on the other hand made them victims of a public tug of war," he said.

And the constitutional historian Lord Blake said: "I think he was wrong to imply that the princes had to be `saved' from the Royal Family. There is nothing to suggest that Charles is not a caring and loving father."

After the event, pages 3, 4