For Queen and country, the family must do its duty

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The Independent Online

Jokes about attitudes to the Nazis have been a staple of the British humour of embarrassment, probably since before 1939. And, as far as high farce goes, there have been moments in the news coverage of Prince Harry's mistake that have exceeded anything John Cleese could have devised; such as, for example, the fact that the photographs of Harry wearing a swastika armband were offered to The Sun on the assumption that the newspaper would be interested in Prince William in a leopard suit.

Jokes about attitudes to the Nazis have been a staple of the British humour of embarrassment, probably since before 1939. And, as far as high farce goes, there have been moments in the news coverage of Prince Harry's mistake that have exceeded anything John Cleese could have devised; such as, for example, the fact that the photographs of Harry wearing a swastika armband were offered to The Sun on the assumption that the newspaper would be interested in Prince William in a leopard suit.

Even if the monarchy is taken seriously, as it must be to some extent because of its constitutional and symbolic role, the third in line to the throne is a marginal figure. Yet, regardless of whether you, the reader, take offence at the idiocy of this particular 20-year-old, or whether we as a newspaper do so, it cannot be denied that some people have been profoundly and justifiably offended. The reaction around the world, more than at home, has been one in which the horror has outweighed the bemusement.

The Royal Family's response to this disaster has been lamentable. The heir apparent seems to have been pleased with the speed with which his public relations machine issued a statement in Prince Harry's name on the night before publication. He seems oblivious to the inadequate wording of that statement, in which the Prince apologised - "if I caused any offence" - and said, "it was a poor choice of costume". It was a classic modern non-apology apology, and Michael Howard, the Leader of the Opposition, is fully entitled to suggest that a show of more convincing contrition might be required.

Equally, however, this newspaper does not intend to join a media finger-wagging that demands that Prince Harry says sorry "in public", that is, on live television - and mean it. It is up to The Firm to devise whatever strategy of which it is capable to rescue some of its reputation. All we can do is to comment on the wisdom of the Private Member's Bill to be brought in by Ann Taylor MP, to give female members of the Royal Family equal rights of succession. If the Princess Royal had been higher up the pecking order, she might have brought some common sense to the enterprise.

After all, it is in The Firm's own interest that it gets a grip on the situation. The arrogance and isolation of most of the family, their advisers and friends have damaged the institution enough already. But it is in the national interest too. This newspaper has long supported the ending of any executive role of the monarch in the British constitution - although it is not a priority and the foolishness of one prince neither advances nor sets back the argument.

But as long as members of the Royal Family are ambassadors for the nation they need to show a better understanding of their responsibilities. The Queen is holding a reception for Auschwitz survivors to mark the 60th anniversary of the camp's liberation next week. She needs to make sure that the family as a whole does its duty and makes a fitting gesture before then to acknowledge Prince Harry's error.

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