Princess Diana: off with her figurehead!

Bitchiness, backstabbing, cults, conspiracies: the inquest into Diana's death shows the triumph of backward court politics over republicanism.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Politics

Of all the mad claims made at the inquest into the death of Princess Diana – from Mohamed al-Fayed’s potty conspiracy theories that she was bumped off by the royals to the notion that she was organising a constitutional revolution to make William the King – easily the maddest is that Diana was a rebel. Both inside the inquest and among its dwindling band of cheerleaders outside, people are entertaining the fantasy that Diana was a ‘radical’, even a ‘republican’, who might yet rattle the royals and possibly bring them down (1). Nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, the inquest highlights the weakness of contemporary republicanism, and signals the re-emergence of backward, superstitious, bitchy court politics.

In the 10 years since Diana and her boyfriend Dodi Fayed died in a car crash in Paris, it has become fashionable to look back with through-the-fingers horror at the mass hysteria surrounding her funeral. Those sections of the population that still have crockery with Diana’s mugshot on it – what we might refer to as the ‘Bermondsey brigade’: patriotic elderly people, a certain kind of working-class family, and various other royal-watchers – are frequently ridiculed. Yet sections of the educated elite are indulging in a far wackier worship of the late Di, seeming to believe that her spirit – compassionate, thoughtful, rebellious – will see off the last bastions of monarchical privilege in modern Britain.

Some liberal lawyers and commentators seem to be pushing Diana’s carcass into battle with the House of Windsor. Perhaps they think she can play some voodoo role from beyond the grave in edging Britain towards republicanism. Indeed, one columnist says the inquest shows that Diana is a ‘revenant’ (2). Professor of journalism and Guardian writer Ros Coward says Diana is emerging from the inquest as a ‘radical’. Her evidence? Well, Di had an affair with an Arab, which ‘reminds us just how radical and complex a figure she was, someone who despite the racism and snobbery of her background had no problem with falling in love with such a man’. Honestly – I thought the middle classes had got over the idea that sleeping with one of ‘the wogs’ is somehow daring and edgy. Coward argues that Diana’s alleged belief that the Queen might abdicate, and that she should be replaced by William rather than Charles, ‘remind us again how much of her life was spent stirring up fairly radical ideas’ (3). Quite what is radical about a super-privileged woman wanting her son rather than her estranged husband to become Britain’s next pampered and pompous unelected head of state is anybody’s guess.

This follows on from Julie Burchill’s claim a few years ago that Diana was a ‘republican’ (which is rather like saying Bernard Matthews is a vegetarian) and that after her death ‘republican sentiment was palpable in public opinion’ (4). Burchill backed up this claim by citing an opinion poll which suggested that 72 per cent of the population believed the Queen to be out of touch. That’s funny – ‘republicanism’ hasn’t historically meant saying ‘nice’ or ‘naughty’ to a pollster who asks you what you think of the monarch. The French revolutionaries didn’t badmouth Louis XVI in a poll; they stuck his head on one. Yet some British republicans are cheering the current Di inquest, in the hope that it will expose – to the seven or eight people still unaware of this fact – that the Windsors are a bunch of parasitical no-marks. Some are praising the way that Michael Mansfield, the left-leaning QC, is ‘pursuing an aggressive line of questioning, motivated by the desire at the very least to bring into the open the continuous security activities around Diana’s life’ (5). It’s The People vs the House of Windsor!

Only it isn’t. At all. Except in the fevered imaginations of liberal Diana lovers. In truth, the inquest reeks to the high heavens of low court politics. There is bitchiness and backstabbing; cultish networks, some that worship Diana, others that defend the Windsors; wild claims about secret murderous plots; accusations of ‘whore!’; reports of casual racism (Diana’s mother allegedly frowned on her daughter’s relationship with a ‘fucking Muslim man’); even the presentation to the jury of pure superstitious claptrap: the jurors have been told that Diana’s personal psychic, Rita Rogers, had a premonition that Di’s brakes had been tampered with (6). Royal and aristocratic dynasties – self-interested, incestuous, possessed of a narcissistic delusion that they have a God-given right to rule – have always been steeped in backward thinking and backstabbing competitiveness. Now, such unctuous and unpalatable infighting seems to be getting an airing in the new public court provided by the Diana inquest, in what one newspaper refers to as ‘a mawkish indulgence of a conspiracy cult’ (7).

Pro-Di republicans can fantasise all they like that Diana is some kind of figurehead for a radical shake-up of the monarchy. In truth, these Di-sympathisers are lining up like minions in what is effectively a battle of two Queens: Diana, the late Queen of Hampstead and Highgate, who supposedly represents compassion and the right to sleep with Arabs, and Elizabeth, the Queen of England, who is stuffy and old-fashioned and should let William succeed her to the throne because he has blonde hair and a nice demeanour. Some seem seriously keen to use this inquest to re-crown Diana as the People’s Princess, and effectively create a new legitimate throne of England, based on modern values of tolerance, multiculturalism and high fashion, to challenge the old illegitimate throne of England occupied by Her Out Of Touch Majesty.

Such a spectacle only exposes the weakness of republicanism today. Instead of putting forward sharp and convincing arguments for the abolition of the monarchy, many are clinging to Diana’s silk coat-tails in the deluded hope that she will do their dirty work for them. Yet true republicanism is about democracy and rationalism; it is about the adults of a society taking charge of their own lives and destinies free from the ‘guidance’ of an aloof and distant head of state, or any other unelected bigwig who thinks he knows better. That is the very opposite of the hereditary, half-child, half-lunatic internal politics of the royal court; anyone who thinks radicalism or republicanism will spring from inside that arena is madder than Richard III. It is time we faced up to the fact that Diana was a glorified clotheshorse who was the author of her own death by reckless speeding. And time we called for the abolition of this grotesque inquest, and – like every other sensible country, including Nepal at the end of last year – the abolition of the monarchy.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked. Visit his website here.

Previously on spiked

Tessa Mayes argued that the paparazzi were not to blame for Diana’s death. Brendan O’Neill thought it was time to get rid of the People’s Monarchy and reviewed a book on the phenomenon of mass public mourning. Dolan Cummings praised the revolutionary instincts of Robespierre. Or read more at spiked issue British politics.

(1) Ever the inconvenient royal, Comment Is Free, 16 January 2008

(2) Diana the hunted, Comment Is Free, 4 October 2007

(3) Ever the inconvenient royal, Comment Is Free, 16 January 2008

(4) New chapters for the fairytale, Independent, 12 June 1998

(5) Ever the inconvenient royal, Comment Is Free, 16 January 2008

(6) Burrell dismisses Diana death plot, Press Association, 14 January 2008

(7) An unpleasant intrusion, Guardian, 16 January 2008

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics


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