OPINION: Wessex shambles fuels monarchy debate

When Gordon Brown was Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer he decided

that the Conservative government's plans to spend pounds 60m on a new

Royal Yacht were a waste of taxpayers' money. I was sent to brief the

Mail on Sunday.

I told them that a Labour government would not go ahead with this

expenditure, therefore effectively sinking the new boat.

We had not bothered to tell the leader's office of our little scam so

when Blair read this story the next day he spluttered over his muesli in

fury. He realised that the Queen would be furious but also thought that

the 'punters' liked the idea of a new Royal Yacht.

It was only when The Sun revealed that 80 per cent of its readers

thought a new boat was a complete waste of money that Blair risked

upsetting the Royal Family and backed Brown's decision to veto the Tory


The Prime Minister's support for royalty has never been based on any

principle but on the belief that they are popular with the people. When

Mo Mowlam uttered a few disloyal statements about this disaffected

family, the Number 10 machine jumped on her from a great height.

They did not want to undermine all the good work they had put in by

saving the monarchy after Diana's death. I well remember Alastair

Campbell boasting to me how he had helped write the Queen's live

election broadcast and delighted in reading out passages to me.

The Countess of Wessex has changed all that and Blair's pet poodle

Stephen Byers was actually put up to criticise Sophie. With the

Government still reeling from the foot-and-mouth crisis and Blair's

indecision over the election date, the Sophie story could not have come

at a better time.

Labour can afford to join in the ridicule of this insignificant minor

royal because the party's biggest backer in the media, Rupert Murdoch,

is a republican. His favourite paper, The Sun, sounded more like the old

Daily Worker this week.

Why on earth should elected Labour politicians - many of whom knew real

poverty in their youth - bow and scrape to this bunch? Sophie has

prostituted the British crown. It makes my blood boil that Edward and

his ambitious missus were sent abroad to represent the people of this

country. Fortunately, the fact that Sophie bought the whole PR industry

into disrepute will soon be forgotten as the media battalions line up on

either side of the republican wall. The Daily Mail, which has given as

much space as anyone to the Sophie story, has come out clearly on the

side of the monarchy claiming that 'Britain now has the most republican

government since Oliver Cromwell.' This one will run and run.

Bernard Ingham is on holiday.

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