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
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Let's turn RBS into a bank for the public interest

A tarnished symbol of global finance could be remade as a network of local banks. 

The Royal Bank of Scotland has now been losing money for nine consecutive years. Today’s announcement of a further £7bn yearly loss at the publicly-owned bank is just the latest evidence that RBS is essentially unsellable. The difference this time is that the Government seems finally to have accepted that fact.

Up until now, the government had been reluctant to intervene in the running of the business, instead insisting that it will be sold back to the private sector when the time is right. But these losses come just a week after the government announced that it is abandoning plans to sell Williams & Glynn – an RBS subsidiary which has over 300 branches and £22bn of customer deposits.

After a series of expensive delays and a lack of buyer interest, the government now plans to retain Williams & Glynn within the RBS group and instead attempt to boost competition in the business lending market by granting smaller "challenger banks" access to RBS’s branch infrastructure. It also plans to provide funding to encourage small businesses to switch their accounts away from RBS.

As a major public asset, RBS should be used to help achieve wider objectives. Improving how the banking sector serves small businesses should be the top priority, and it is good to see the government start to move in this direction. But to make the most of RBS, they should be going much further.

The public stake in RBS gives us a unique opportunity to create new banking institutions that will genuinely put the interests of the UK’s small businesses first. The New Economics Foundation has proposed turning RBS into a network of local banks with a public interest mandate to serve their local area, lend to small businesses and provide universal access to banking services. If the government is serious about rebalancing the economy and meeting the needs of those who feel left behind, this is the path they should take with RBS.

Small and medium sized enterprises are the lifeblood of the UK economy, and they depend on banking services to fund investment and provide a safe place to store money. For centuries a healthy relationship between businesses and banks has been a cornerstone of UK prosperity.

However, in recent decades this relationship has broken down. Small businesses have repeatedly fallen victim to exploitative practice by the big banks, including the the mis-selling of loans and instances of deliberate asset stripping. Affected business owners have not only lost their livelihoods due to the stress of their treatment at the hands of these banks, but have also experienced family break-ups and deteriorating physical and mental health. Others have been made homeless or bankrupt.

Meanwhile, many businesses struggle to get access to the finance they need to grow and expand. Small firms have always had trouble accessing finance, but in recent decades this problem has intensified as the UK banking sector has come to be dominated by a handful of large, universal, shareholder-owned banks.

Without a focus on specific geographical areas or social objectives, these banks choose to lend to the most profitable activities, and lending to local businesses tends to be less profitable than other activities such as mortgage lending and lending to other financial institutions.

The result is that since the mid-1980s the share of lending going to non-financial businesses has been falling rapidly. Today, lending to small and medium sized businesses accounts for just 4 per cent of bank lending.

Of the relatively small amount of business lending that does occur in the UK, most is heavily concentrated in London and surrounding areas. The UK’s homogenous and highly concentrated banking sector is therefore hampering economic development, starving communities of investment and making regional imbalances worse.

The government’s plans to encourage business customers to switch away from RBS to another bank will not do much to solve this problem. With the market dominated by a small number of large shareholder-owned banks who all behave in similar ways (and who have been hit by repeated scandals), businesses do not have any real choice.

If the government were to go further and turn RBS into a network of local banks, it would be a vital first step in regenerating disenfranchised communities, rebalancing the UK’s economy and staving off any economic downturn that may be on the horizon. Evidence shows that geographically limited stakeholder banks direct a much greater proportion of their capital towards lending in the real economy. By only investing in their local area, these banks help create and retain wealth regionally rather than making existing geographic imbalances worce.

Big, deep challenges require big, deep solutions. It’s time for the government to make banking work for small businesses once again.

Laurie Macfarlane is an economist at the New Economics Foundation