Leading Article: Diana 1961-1997 - Who does not have a share of this?

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Diana, Princess of Wales, has influenced British life in the days after her death more than she ever did in her pitiably short life. Since the hideous car crash in Paris early last Sunday morning, there has been a collective outpouring of grief which may be unique in the history of this country. The Royal Family has been forced into a rare act of self- examination, to find out what it means to the people of Britain, and to question whether the protocols designed to establish its authority actually reduce it. Downing Street has shown itself to be more attuned to the emotional needs of the nation.

It is astonishing for these to be consequences of the death of a young woman, even one so unusually compelling as Diana. She did not win any votes, she made no memorable speeches, she did not transform the quality of our educational system or the health service. Yet, she struck a chord. She showed us the monarchy as a dysfunctional, out-of-touch family. Despite the Queen's poignant bow of the head as the coffin passed the Palace and Prince Philip's resolve to join his son and grandsons in procession to the abbey, the royals still appear as an anachronism occupying the top of the pyramid of Britain's social structure.

The repetition of the word "love" in the thousands of messages tucked into bunches of flowers and its use as a refrain in the funeral service contrast starkly with the word of praise that springs most readily from the lips of members of the Royal Family. That is "loyalty". By their standards, Diana was not loyal. She did not acquiesce in her husband's adultery, and, indeed, confessed to her own. Her work for charity often eclipsed the Royal Family's, and that was another act of disloyalty. That the public sensed the underlying hostility of the Royal Family was clear from the language of the messages, one of which read "No More Pain" and went on to list heartbreak, rejection, lies, deceit, hurt and sadness.

Diana's death has exposed the monarchy to a uniquely withering scrutiny. After Tony Blair's impressive encapsulation of the national mood last Sunday - when he described Diana as "the people's princess" - there was a danger that the chief mourner would be a politician, not a prince. But the Prime Minister shrewdly drew Buckingham Palace back into the circle of influence. He would have been mistaken not to do so, of course, but politicians with a majority of 179 in the legislature are not always so conscious of the perils of uncharted waters. Mr Blair seems to understand that a debate about the death of the monarchy would undermine the political stability his party requires to implement its plans. (Australia is evidence of that.) But he also understands that the survival of the monarchy requires changes in the way the Royal Family conducts itself.

Royalists suggest that we have a choice; we either keep the monarchy as it is or embrace republicanism. To change it, they say, is to destroy it. This is nonsense. The old protocols to which the Royal Family adheres- like the refusal to fly the standard at half-mast - are still implemented with a passion by courtiers, and the family does not challenge them. They do not understand that only a weak monarch and an unimaginative court stick to bad rules because they are old rules. A clever monarch uses protocol to invigorate the institution. When that means change it is welcomed, not feared. But the case for change has become irresistible.

The Prince of Wales probably understands this better than his parents do. His attempt to create the image of a modern royal has not been helped by the court, and was sometimes obscured by the behaviour of his former wife. He should be encouraged by the Queen to play a more public role. Abdication when she reaches 75 should not be ruled out. Prince Charles might start by inheriting some of Princess Diana's charitable obligations - for he must begin to establish himself in the affection of the people if he is to succeed his mother. He is never likely to become the "people's prince", but it was easy to feel more warmly towards him as he shepherded his two boys into the funeral procession. But if the Royal Family does not start to devolve authority and responsibility from the Queen to her son quite soon, his son may find that it hardly exists when it is his turn to inherit it. Prince William's mother would have hated that.

There is more to Diana's death, however, than a crisis in the Royal Family. The treatment of Diana - which may have been encouraged in part by her own wilful behaviour at times - highlighted her vulnerability and isolation. Many women, and a fair number of men too, could identify with her distressing confessions, and her perpetual search for happiness.

The surge of emotion at her death is not merely explained by a sneaking appreciation for her battle with the Royal Family, her problems, her good works and love for her boys. Behind this tide is an incoherent but instinctive sense of collective guilt. Maybe it is us, the people, who, having built her up, then destroyed her. From the day she appeared, blinking into the limelight when her engagement to Prince Charles was announced, we treated her like our private property. We could not get enough of her; wherever she was, whatever she was doing, whoever she was with, we felt we had the right to be alongside her.

A number of factors caused her death. Doubtless, a more caring family environment might have rescued her marriage. As it was, she turned her back on the Royal Family and they cast her out. She sought out fast company and, critically, rejected royal bodyguards in favour of the security provided by her new boyfriend's family. The driver, according to the accident investigators, was apparently drunk and unqualified to drive her. All the claims by Mohamed Al Fayed, his employer, that he would look after her, were shown to be a tragic nonsense. But the press had a role, too. Undoubtedly newspapers relentlessly seeking picture after picture bear a burden of guilt.

Earl Spencer's words about the hounding of his sister should be read carefully in every newspaper office in the land, including ours, and the sound of the astonishing applause it received should be listened to very carefully by us all. It sounded like a declaration of war, and newspapers are in a difficult position to protect themselves against the moral wrath of the people, especially if they dare harass Prince William and Prince Harry.

But the excuse that the press only feeds on the public appetite will not wash: after all, a child left alone will eat all the sweets it can lay its hands on; a responsible parent knows when to call a halt. But that also reveals an underlying truth. In our dealings with Diana we behaved like children, and we never had enough of her. The paparazzi were chasing her on our behalf last Sunday morning because we did not know when to stop. Almost everyone has a small share of the responsibility for the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

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