Magazine article The Spectator

Enemies of the Crown

Magazine article The Spectator

Enemies of the Crown

Article excerpt

Prince Andrew's follies have shown the royal family who its friends are

To enemies of the monarchy, Prince Andrew presents the perfect target. He has an array of vices: a love of the high life, a weakness for unsavoury company, a painfully short list of achievements and a talent for finding his way into newspapers. His foreign trips have a reputation for misadventure, with diplomats sent to smooth the feathers he ruffles. To have the reputation of being rude is hardly fatal for a royal: the Duke of Edinburgh has almost made a virtue of it. But when convicted sex offenders, Kazakh billionaires and teenage masseurs were thrown into the mix, the anti-monarchists knew it was the perfect time to pounce.

It is a Labour MP, Chris Bryant, who has led the charge. The Prince, he says, should resign because he 'is a bit of an embarrassment' - this from a former vicar best known for posting a picture of himself in his underpants on a dating website. But Bryant's mission is broader. When he was a Foreign Office minister, he said, he felt frustrated at the idea that the monarchy was immune from political attack. 'A Labour administration tackling the royals would have led to charges of republicanism, ' he said. 'Perhaps it might be easier for the coalition to take a stand.' If last week was anything to go by, he will not be disappointed.

The anonymous briefing from government sources started immediately. Prince Andrew was acting as an unpaid trade envoy, ran the logic, so he should be treated like an ordinary politician. Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, said the Duke should 'judge the position he is in' and added, with menace, that 'conversations will have to take place'. Another source said the government would shed no tears for the Prince's departure. Even 10 Downing Street had joined this royal hunting session, with an unnamed official saying that Prince Andrew's position would be 'untenable' if further embarrassing stories emerged.

The Prince, in other words, was being thrown to the wolves. This happens fairly regularly to politicians: anonymous character assassination followed by political burial. But to treat a member of the royal family in this way was extraordinary. When David Cameron turned up for work on Monday he recognised immediately what was happening, and called off the attack dogs. Even he, however, was struck by how quickly this clash happened.

The Prime Minister is an instinctive monarchist, but is above all a politician first.

It was clear that the Prince Andrew episode had exposed a deeper tension between the political class and the monarchy.

One does not have to be a republican to cringe at Prince Andrew's behaviour - the Queen herself is likely to be one of those most dismayed at how this has played out.

Many of the criticisms are unwarranted, but it can hardly be said that the Prince stays out of danger. He has played into the hands of the monarchy's critics. Ten years ago, the world knew about his reputation, and this was not a problem, because he was willing to act unpaid to use his royal cachet to act as a trade ambassador and open markets for British companies. Befriending the likes of Saif Gaddafi was an occupational hazard. His job was to knock on dodgy doors; he could not help who answered them.

But no British company asked that Prince Andrew stay four nights last December with Jeffrey Epstein. The two may have been friends for years, but when Epstein served an 18-month jail sentence for soliciting a teenage girl it was a sign that it might be better to limit their relationship to Christmas cards. When the News of the World ran photographs of the prince and the sex offender walking in Central Park, it looked bad.

And when it emerged that the Prince solicited £15,000 from Epstein to help repay debts run up by his spendthrift ex-wife, Sarah Ferguson, it looked worse. To Prince Andrew's allies, this is a depressingly recurrent theme. 'She always needs money, and that's why he hangs around with these characters, ' one says. …

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