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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Leader: Labour is failing. A hard Brexit is looming. But there is no need for fatalism

There is nothing inevitable about the right’s supremacy or a catastrophic Brexit.

Democracy depends on competent opposition. Governments, however well intentioned, require permanent and effective scrutiny to meet the public interest. For this purpose, the role of Her Majesty’s Opposition was enshrined in law 80 years ago. However, at present, and in the week Article 50 is invoked, this constitutional duty is being fulfilled in name alone. (The Scottish National Party speaks only for the Scottish interest.)

Since re-electing Jeremy Corbyn as its leader, the Labour Party has become the weakest opposition in postwar history. It lost the recent Copeland by-election to the Conservatives (a seat the Tories had not held since 1931) and trails the governing party, by up to 19 points, in opinion polls. The Tories feel no pressure from Labour. They confidently predict they will retain power until 2030 or beyond. Yet as the poll tax debacle and the Iraq War demonstrate, prolonged periods of single-party rule run the danger of calamitous results – not least, this time, the break-up of Britain.

Under Mr Corbyn, who formally lost the confidence of 80 per cent of his MPs last summer (and has not regained it), Labour has the least impressive and least qualified front bench in its history. Its enfeeblement has left a void that no party is capable of filling. “The grass-roots social movement of the left that was supposed to arrive in Jeremy Corbyn’s wake has not shown up,” the academic Nick Pearce, a former head of Gordon Brown’s policy unit, writes on page 36.

In these new times, the defining struggle is no longer between parties but within the Conservative Party. As a consequence, many voters have never felt more unrepresented or disempowered. Aided by an increasingly belligerent right-wing press, the Tory Brexiteers are monopolising and poisoning debate: as the novelist Ian McEwan said, “The air in my country is very foul.” Those who do not share their libertarian version of Brexit Britain are impugned as the “enemies” of democracy. Theresa May has a distinctive vision but will the libertarian right allow her the time and space to enact it?

Let us not forget that the Conservatives have a majority of just 15 or that Labour’s problems did not begin with Mr Corbyn’s leadership. However, his divisiveness and unpopularity have accelerated the party’s decline. Although the Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey, elected by a fraction of his union membership, loftily pronounced that the Labour leader had 15 months left to prove himself, the country cannot afford to wait that long.

Faced with the opposition’s weakness, some have advocated a “progressive alliance” to take on the Conservatives. Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and the nationalist parties are urged to set aside their tribalism. Yet it is fantasy to believe that such an alliance would provide stable majority government when nearly four million people voted for Ukip in 2015. There has also been chatter about the creation of a new centrist party – the Democrats, or, as Richard Dawkins writes on page 54, the European Party. Under our first-past-the-post electoral system, however, a new party would risk merely perpetuating the fragmentation of the opposition. If Labour is too weak to win, it is too strong to die.

The UK’s departure from the EU poses fundamental questions about the kind of country we wish to be. For some on the right, Brexit is a Trojan Horse to remake Britain as a low-tax, small-state utopia. Others aspire to a protectionist fortress of closed borders and closed minds. Mr Corbyn was re-elected by a landslide margin last summer. The Leave campaign’s victory was narrower yet similarly decisive. But these events are not an excuse for quietism. Labour must regain its historic role as the party of the labour interest. Labour’s purpose is not to serve the interests of a particular faction but to redress the power of capital for the common good. And it must have a leader capable of winning power.

If Labour’s best and brightest MPs are unwilling to serve in the shadow cabinet, they should use their freedom to challenge an under-scrutinised government and prove their worth. They should build cross-party alliances. They should evolve a transformative policy programme. They should think seriously about why there has been a post-liberal turn in our politics.

There is nothing inevitable about the right’s supremacy or a catastrophic Brexit. At present, the mood on the Labour benches is one of fatalism and passivity. This cannot go on.

This article first appeared in the 30 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Wanted: an opposition