Royal wedding hysteria exists because we want it to

People don’t publish “Wills and Kate” stories for the joy of the prose, they do it to flog a few mor

"Do you want the royal wedding special edition of that?"

I was a bit stymied by the question. And surprised. Surprised, because I was only buying a mobile phone (a £3 mobile phone, the cheapest I could find, if you must know); stymied, because I didn't know whether I really wanted to expose myself to the full horror of Kate & Wills Royal Wedding Souvenir Edition or not.

On reflection, I should have bitten the bullet. Curiosity subsequently got the better of me and I can now see what I turned down, having located the joyous item in question online.Here's the thing in its full Union-Jack-look-at-the-lovely-couple glory. A thing of rare beauty, I'm sure you'll agree, and a fitting way to celebrate the wedding of Kate and William: a pay-as-you-go mobile phone.

As one wag said to me when I mentioned its existence on Twitter: "I wonder if it comes pre-hacked?"

Six more weeks. Six more weeks. It's going to stretch out into a vast desert of eternity, the time between now and then. Until that time, we've got to endure the deluge of tacky souvenir novelties, the endless "Aw, isn't it a fairy tale?" maiden aunt talk from royal correspondents, and a seemingly endless slew of articles like the Mirror's the other day, in which we learned that "Kate Middleton and Prince William's wave reveals their closeness".

I don't want to sound like a cold fish. I'm pleased this nice young couple are getting married and we're all going to get a bank holiday out of it; I don't want to take away any of the adrenalin that's already building in all of us as we anticipate the prospect of sitting around a wallpaper pasting table with a warm paper cup of cherryade and a cold sausage roll come 29 April. No. You can be sure I'll be there with a jolly hat and a smile.

There's something else that's been bothering me about this whole business, though, a nagging sense of something sinister. And I didn't really know what it was until I got an email pointing me in the direction of this rather breathtaking article, over at the Mail Online, wondering what Diana's life would have been like if she had faked her own death (I'm afraid you're going to have to hold your noses and plunge headfirst into the midden, my friends). As soon as I began to read it, it became obvious. Those long-lens paparazzi pictures . . . the close-ups of the car . . . the speculation and the intrusion . . .

Whether we like it or not – and the production of these stories is presumably based on a perceived appetite for them among us – Princess Kate is going to supplant Princess Diana. She is going to fill the tabloid void left behind by the Queen of Hearts. Just yesterday, the papers were licking their lips over the fact that a dress she once wore – once, for about five minutes – was flogged off for £78,000. It was "the dress that wowed Wills", drooled the Daily Mail. Just as Diana's dresses were fetishised by the papers, so are Kate's clothes already being turned into iconic bits of thread by the usual suspects.

But then that, I suppose, is what was always going to happen. People don't create royal wedding souvenir-edition pay-as-you-go phones for a laugh, they do it because they might sell a few. People don't publish cloying glurge about how Kate's smile lights up the world for the joy of the prose, they do it because they think it'll flog a few more papers. And the thing is, they're probably right.

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
Chuka Umunna speaks at the launch of Labour's education manifesto during the general election. Photograph: Getty Images.
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After so badly misjudging the leadership contest, how will the Blairites handle Corbyn?

The left-winger's opponents are divided between conciliation and aggression. 

When Labour lost the general election in May, the party’s modernisers sensed an opportunity. Ed Miliband, one of the most left-wing members of the shadow cabinet, had been unambiguously rejected and the Tories had achieved their first majority in 23 years. More than any other section of the party, the Blairites could claim to have foreseen such an outcome. Surely the pendulum would swing their way?

Yet now, as Labour’s leadership contest reaches its denouement, those on the right are asking themselves how they misjudged the landscape so badly. Their chosen candidate, Liz Kendall, is expected to finish a poor fourth and the party is poised to elect Jeremy Corbyn, the most left-wing leader in its 115-year history. For a faction that never ceases to underline the importance of winning elections, it will be a humbling result.

Though the crash has been sudden, the Blairites have long been in decline. Gordon Brown won the leadership unchallenged and senior figures such as John Reid, James Purnell and Alan Milburn chose to depart from the stage rather than fight on. In 2010, David Miliband, the front-runner in the leadership election, lost to his brother after stubbornly refusing to distance himself from the Iraq war and alienating undecided MPs with his imperiousness.

When the younger Miliband lost, the modernisers moved fast – too fast. “They’re behaving like family members taking jewellery off a corpse,” a rival campaign source told me on 9 May. Many Labour supporters agreed. The rush of op-eds and media interviews antagonised a membership that wanted to grieve in peace. The modernising contenders – Chuka Umunna, Liz Kendall, Mary Creagh, Tristram Hunt – gave the impression that the Blairites wanted to drown out all other voices. “It was a huge mistake for so many players from that wing of the party to be put into the field,” a shadow cabinet minister told me. “In 1994, forces from the soft left to the modernising right united around Tony Blair. The lesson is never again can we have multiple candidates.”

While conducting their post-mortem, the Blairites are grappling with the question of how to handle Corbyn. For some, the answer is simple. “There shouldn’t be an accommodation with Corbyn,” John McTernan, Blair’s former director of political operations, told me. “Corbyn is a disaster and he should be allowed to be his own disaster.” But most now adopt a more conciliatory tone. John Woodcock, the chair of Progress, told me: “If he wins, he will be the democratically elected leader and I don’t think there will be any serious attempt to actually depose him or to make it impossible for him to lead.”

Umunna, who earlier rebuked his party for “behaving like a petulant child”, has emphasised that MPs “must accept the result of our contest when it comes and support our new leader in developing an agenda that can return Labour to office”. The shadow business secretary even suggests that he would be prepared to discuss serving in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet if he changed his stances on issues such as nuclear disarmament, Nato, the EU and taxation. Were Umunna, a former leadership contender, to adopt a policy of aggression, he would risk being blamed should Corbyn fail.

Suggestions that the new parliamentary group Labour for the Common Good represents “the resistance” are therefore derided by those close to it. The organisation, which was launched by Umunna and Hunt before Corbyn’s surge, is aimed instead at ensuring the intellectual renewal that modernisers acknowledge has been absent since 2007. It will also try to unite the party’s disparate mainstream factions: the Blairites, the Brownites, the soft left, the old right and Blue Labour. The ascent of Corbyn, who has the declared support of just 15 MPs (6.5 per cent of the party), has persuaded many that they cannot afford the narcissism of small differences. “We need to start working together and not knocking lumps out of each other,” Woodcock says. There will be no defections, no SDP Mk II. “Jeremy’s supporters really underestimate how Labour to the core the modernisers are,” Pat McFadden, the shadow Europe minister, told me.

Although they will not change their party, the Blairites are also not prepared to change their views. “Those of us on this side of Labour are always accused of being willing to sell out for power,” a senior moderniser told me. “Well, we do have political principles and they’re not up for bartering.” He continued: “Jeremy Corbyn is not a moderate . . .
He’s an unreconstructed Bennite who regards the British army as morally equivalent to the IRA. I’m not working with that.”

Most MPs believe that Corbyn will fail but they are divided on when. McFadden has predicted that the left-winger “may even get a poll bounce in the short term, because he’s new and thinking differently”. A member of the shadow cabinet suggested that Labour could eventually fall to as low as 15 per cent in the polls and lose hundreds of councillors.

The challenge for the Blairites is to reboot themselves in time to appear to be an attractive alternative if and when Corbyn falters. Some draw hope from the performance of Tessa Jowell, who they still believe will win the London mayoral selection. “I’ve spoken to people who are voting enthusiastically both for Jeremy and for Tessa,” Wes Streeting, the newly elected MP for Ilford North, said. “They have both run very optimistic, hopeful, positive campaigns.”

But if Corbyn falls, it does not follow that the modernisers will rise. “The question is: how do we stop it happening again if he does go?” a senior frontbencher said. “He’s got no interest or incentive to change the voting method. We could lose nurse and end up with something worse.” If the road back to power is long for Labour, it is longest of all for the Blairites. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 03 September 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Pope of the masses