The Kate Middleton topless photos are the grossest invasion of privacy

If you buy into the worst kind of paparazzi antics, you are throwing away your own privacy too.

The royal boobs have apparently been seen. It might seem comical, or silly, or daft, a discussion that prompts sniggering and adolescent chortles. But with every fresh photo set there's a testing of boundaries going on and a new stripping away of privacy - not just of celebrities, but of all of us.

I haven't seen the photos. Why would I want to? Many media commentators have begun their discussion with a sadfaced confession: Yes, I have seen the royal breasts, I forced myself through professional necessity to look at them, like a surgeon inspecting a bundle of diseased organs.

Well no, not me. I have no interest in seeing sneaked photos of someone in private - the photographs of Kate were apparently taken while she and William were on holiday at Viscount Linley's chateau in France. Now, I don't go round on Weston Beach, say, gawping at other people's bodies, so why should I do so at home? If someone wants to walk around in their pants, so what? It's no business of mine. Let them live their lives.

Imagine walking around with a normal pocket camera, asking to take photos of someone on the beach. You wouldn't. Because you'd feel like a pervert. Because you would be. Add on a long lens and a hide, though, and suddenly this behaviour somehow becomes acceptable - acceptable enough for a magazine to pay for your dirty photos.

It's a slightly different situation from the Prince Harry pictures. He, the dozy fool, was mucking about in a Las Vegas suite the size of Blackpool, and got snapped by an onlooker. He, the buffoon (sorry, I mean the Brave Boy Battling the Taliban, having entirely coincidentally gone on a PR-boosting tour of duty since) may have been in a private space, but wasn't exactly acting in a way that didn't attract attention.

Kate, on the other hand, is not being drunk, not partying, not mucking about, but just standing there, I'm led to believe. What justification can there be for that? We all know human beings have holidays. This Kate incident has all the nasty hallmarks of the worst excesses of the paparazzi: the sneaking in bushes, the enormous long lenses, the grainy photos, the popular trashy press lapping it up.

Lapped up in France, at least. Closer magazine proudly declared that William and Kate were alone on a romantic holiday: "Well, almost. Closer was there!" Can you imagine a British magazine using such a jolly tone, post Diana?

In Britain, the dead-tree press have voluntarily agreed not to print photos of Kate other than at public engagements - not as a sop to the chilling effects of nasty Brian Leveson, by the way, but to keep things sweet with Buckingham Palace. So this is another example of national borders and old media being pretty meaningless when it comes to breaking stories.

For once, our press will be doing the right thing, though not just because it's the right thing to do. There's no public interest. There is no value other than curiosity and prurience. There is no reason for anyone to see those photos, which are a huge violation of privacy.

But how many of us are going to have a sneaky look at the photos? That's the telling factor. Searches for "Kate Middleton t*pless photos" are probably soaring into the stratosphere as I write this. People want to see. How soon before the lines get blurred again between "things people want to see" and "things which are genuinely in the public interest"? We may all claim the moral high ground, but how many of us can resist the temptation?

Royal flesh makes money. From Prince Charles's cock to Harry's bum and Kate's boobs, it seems we think we're entitled to a piece of them. I've written before about the expectations placed upon Kate, as the uterus on legs, with the maiden-aunt nation demanding she become pregnant immediately.

I don't think we are, because they're just people. Massively wealthy, privileged people, but people. So what if they have bodies, like every other person in the world? They don't belong to us.

One day it's Kate, the next it might be you with a lens hidden half a mile away taking pictures of what you're up to. If you buy into the celebrity photos, you're throwing away your own privacy.

A nice, non-invasive, picture of the Duchess of Cambridge. Photograph: Getty Images
Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
GARY WATERS
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In defence of expertise: it’s time to take the heart out of “passionate” politics

What we need is cool logic.

We are living through a bonfire of the experts. During the EU referendum campaign, Michael Gove explained that people had had enough of them. A few weeks later, his fellow Tory MPs took him at his word and chose a relative ingénue to run against Theresa May.

After declaring for Andrea Leadsom in the Tory leadership race, Michael Howard was asked whether it might be a problem that she had never held a position higher than junior minister. Howard, whose long career includes stints as home secretary and opposition leader, demurred: “I don’t think experience is hugely important.”

Even in this jaw-dropping season, that comment caused significant mandibular dislocation. I thought: the next Tory leader will become prime minister at a time of national crisis, faced with some of the UK’s most complex problems since the Second World War. If experience doesn’t matter now, it never does. What does that imply about the job?

Leadsom’s supporters contended that her 25 years in the City were just as valuable as years spent at Westminster. Let’s leave aside the disputed question of whether Leadsom was ever a senior decision-maker (rather than a glorified marketing manager) and ask if success in one field makes it more likely that a person will succeed in another.

Consider Ben Carson, who, despite never having held elected office, contested the Republican presidential nomination. He declared that Obamacare was the worst thing to happen to the United States since slavery and that Hitler may have been stopped if the German public had been armed. Yet Carson is not stupid. He is an admired neurosurgeon who pioneered a method of separating conjoined twins.

Carson is a lesson in the first rule of expertise: it does not transfer from one field to another. This is why, outside their domain, the most brilliant people can be complete dolts. Nevertheless, we – and they – often assume otherwise. People are all too ready to believe that successful generals or entrepreneurs will be good at governing, even though, more often than not, they turn out to be painfully inept.

The psychologist Ellen Langer had her subjects play a betting game. Cards were drawn at random and the players had to bet on whose card was higher. Each played against a well-dressed, self-assured “dapper” and a shabby, awkward “schnook”. The participants knew that it was a game of chance but they took more risks against the schnook. High confidence in one area (“I’m more socially adept than the schnook”) irrationally spilled over into another (“I’ll draw better cards”).

The experiment points us to another reason why we make poor judgements about competence. We place too much faith in social cues – in what we can see. As voters, we assume that because someone is good at giving a speech or taking part in a debate, they will be good at governing. But public performance is an unreliable indicator of how they would cope with running meetings, reading policy briefs and taking decisions in private. Call it the Boris principle.

This overrating of the visible extends beyond politics. Decades of evidence show that the job interview is a poor predictor of how someone will do in the job. Organisations make better decisions when they rely on objective data such as qualifications, track record and test scores. Interviewers are often swayed by qualities that can be performed.

MPs on the Commons education select committee rejected Amanda Spielman, the government’s choice for the next head of Ofsted, after her appearance before them. The committee didn’t reject her because she was deficient in accomplishments or her grasp of education policy, but because she lacked “passion”. Her answers to the committee were thoughtful and evidence-based. Yet a Labour MP told her she wasn’t sufficiently “evangelical” about school improvement; a Tory asked her to stop using the word “data” so often. Apparently, there is little point in being an expert if you cannot emote.

England’s football team is perennially berated in the media for not being passionate enough. But what it lacks is technique. Shortly before Wales played England in the European Championship, the Welsh striker Gareth Bale suggested that England’s players lacked passion. He knew exactly what he was doing. In the tunnel before kick-off, TV cameras caught the English goalkeeper Joe Hart in a vessel-busting frenzy. On the pitch, Hart allowed Bale to score from an absurdly long range because he was incapable of thinking straight.

I wish there were less passion in politics and more cool logic; less evangelism and more data. Unthinking passion has brought the Labour Party to its knees and threatens to do the same to the country. I find myself hungering for dry analyses and thirsting for bloodless lucidity. I admire, more than ever, those with obscure technical knowledge and the hard-won skills needed to make progress, rather than merely promise it.

Political leadership is not brain surgery but it is a rich and deep domain. An effective political leader needs to be an expert in policy, diplomacy, legislative process and how not to screw up an interview. That is why it’s so hard to do the job well when you have spent most of your time in boardrooms or at anti-war rallies.

If democratic politicians display contempt for expertise, including their own, they can hardly complain if those they aspire to govern decide to do without the lot of them. 

Ian Leslie is a writer, author of CURIOUS: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends On It, and writer/presenter of BBC R4's Before They Were Famous.

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt