Is this nation of mugs being led up the primrose path again?

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You'd have to be stony-hearted indeed to begrudge Charles Windsor and Camilla Parker Bowles their happy ending. If marriage is what the two of them want, then why shouldn't they have it? The rules of church-and-state matrimony may have to be bent to accommodate the happy event. But rules were adhered to last time, and were proved to be rather bigger on money, power and position than they were on joy, love and family.

The Prince of Wales may not have married for love in 1981. But as he admitted, back then he'd only the haziest idea of "whatever" love was. Now, at last, something like 35 years after he first met Camilla Shand, perhaps he does.

As for poor Diana, the brood mare who Charles wronged so heinously in marrying for some weird repressed notion of correctitude, nothing can now right the wrong done to her, especially not denying this pair their nuptials. Already, this little England of sentimental subjects is gearing up for a flurry of celebration and gossip. And already, we're all agreed on one thing: This latest gambit is make or break on the question of whether Charles can become a successful king.

At which point the warm glow of romantic anticipation curdles in this subject's breast. What if once again Charles is actually marrying not for love but because this is what he feels his position demands? Could it be that we, the mugs who took his declarations and actions at face value the last time, are being led up the primrose path once again?

For looking back to that grand, fake, loveless, bloodless ceremony that kicked off the 1980s, the astonishing thing is not the degree to which Diana was taken for a ride, but the degree to which we were.

The confidence trick played on Diana - which essentially assumed without consulting her that she was willing to join the "firm", do what she was told, act a part, and live a lie - was cruel and audacious enough. But much later, when we learnt of how the couple had barely met before the wedding was arranged, how Diana already knew that Charles was still emotionally involved with Camilla, and how early in the marriage the two started living separate lives, it became apparent that a woman more grounded than Diana (ie, most women) would have been running like hell long before the tea-towels were designed, let alone printed.

And therein lay the irony of the whole thing. Either running a mile, or understanding the nature of the situation, would have been sensible. Poor young Diana had no sense at all - just a vast, all-encompassing insecurity and an equally gargantuan sense of entitlement.

That's why it all unravelled, and that's how we got a good look at how much contempt for the masses the inner heart of the establishment contained. We saw how these people expected to get away with behaving - the luxury, the infidelity, the indolence, the lies, the petty pomposity, the cruelty - while spinning us a line about duty, family, tradition. The latter, it was clear, they believed in only insomuch as they believed that this was what we had to believe if they were going to carry on ruling us.

Maybe the royalist majority is right to keep its faith. Maybe Charles and Camilla can join in matrimony to make amends, and cast a spell over Britain that teaches us about the enduring power of love. Let's hope not. Let's hope instead that it gradually dawns on all concerned that love and marriage and family should not be mixed up with some dynastical exercise in representing a bunch of consenting adults who are perfectly capable of representing themselves.

A good start would be getting rid of the Royal Marriages Act, which gives the monarch power of veto over the marriage choices of senior members of the Royal Family. If the Windsors have learnt anything from the life and death of the Princess of Wales, it should be that this kind of meddling won't wash in a modern meritocracy.