Leading Article: Changing roles at Buckingham Palace

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The Independent Online
'I HAD a Wendy House bigger than this,' said the Queen as she peered into the main living room. 'We've had bloody cars bigger than this,' said Prince Philip, as he stomped up the stairs.

Thus did the royal couple react when, in a nightmare touchingly recounted in Sue Townsend's The Queen and I, they were transplanted to a Midlands council house, decorated in magnolia-tinted anaglypta, following an election victory by the Republican Party.

Marjorie Mowlam, Labour's National Heritage spokeswoman, has something rather different in mind for them. In an article in the Mail on Sunday yesterday she advocated the construction of a 'People's Palace', partially funded by public subscription, that would be a showplace for the best of contemporary British architecture and design.

For Tony Blair, it is mildly embarrassing that someone so close to him should come up with such a politically daft idea - particularly after he has succeeded in convincing large numbers of hesitant voters that Labour is a serious proposition, not a silly season story. Still, Ms Mowlam herself later conceded that the People's Palace proposal does not rank high among Labour's priorities. And, apart from anything else, with the possible exception of Prince Philip, no member of the Queen's own family has shown any taste for genuinely contemporary design.

But Ms Mowlam does make one fair point: the Royal Family is grossly over-palaced, and far too much public money ( pounds 37.4m a year) goes to its upkeep. For all its popularity with tourists, the dull 19th-century pomposity of Buckingham Palace makes for a depressing symbol of the monarchy. Depressing - but apt, since it proclaims the Royal Family's failure to adjust to Britain's changed role in the world. To house the Windsors in a temple of modern design would be very misleading.