Kate Middleton: walking uterus!

The speculation about whether the princess is pregnant is a sad indication of the way we view our royals.

The speculation about whether the princess is pregnant is a sad indication of the way we view our public figures.

Kate Middleton, our princess of dreams, is slowly becoming dismembered. Just as her sister was reduced to a pair of ripe buttocks by the sexy gaze of the media back in April, now Kate faces the same Boxing Helena fate -- but her destiny is a walking uterus rather than a walking bum.

Photos of Kate last week showed that her hands were near her stomach. Aha! She must be preggers! Or thinking about a baby! Or about to pop one out on the sly! She once refused a peanut butter sandwich! Maybe she's pregnant! Maybe she's about to have the ROYAL BABY just after the ROYAL WEDDING! Hurry up, ma'am, and use your uterus before it runs out!

More prosaic explanations for the pictures -- for example, that she didn't have any pockets, so where was she meant to put her hands? -- could be swept aside. "So what's making Kate so happy?" nudged the Daily Mail, along with the Daily Express and Daily Star, who also carried the photo on their front pages. Maybe she'd met someone she knew? Maybe she was having a nice time? Maybe she likes doing princess things and being a princess? Aha, but with a wink here and a nod there, we get the picture: KATE MIGHT BE PREGNANT!

You might argue that that's all a princess of the realm ever is -- a pretty face, a nice wave and very little else; someone to wear pretty dresses and then squirt out a kid when the Crown demands it. You might say that's the career and the ambition that Kate M chose when she decided to become part of the cobweb-ridden old aristocratic family from her "common" roots.

I don't agree. Surely this person, regardless of whether or not she is a princess, is a human being, a woman with dreams and ambitions, a person with a being, with a soul? Well, it's just that we don't see William, Kate's husband, as essentially being a pair of testicles. We see beyond the gonads when it comes to him, and see a person.

We don't just think: oh come on, Wills, your role is to pump out some blue-blooded semen, so let's get on with it. We don't linger on photographs of his crotch, wondering whether he is about to produce the royal fluids to extend the family line. We just let him get on with it. But that's not a freedom that we extend to his better half: she is destined to be a barren womb, until such time as she becomes pregnant, and then that's that; her work will have been done.

There's another thing, too, aside from the fact we have barely moved on since medieval times in the way we view princesses. The post-Leveson landscape doesn't look spectacularly different from the Bad Old Days. As ever, speculation about the pregnancy (or otherwise) of a public figure is a rather unpleasant thing if that person in question hasn't chosen to make it public, or hasn't reached the stage at which such things should really be made public.

Surely such things are, you know, private, even for public figures? Or is every time Kate looks happy (or sad), or fat (or thin), or puts her hands near her belly (or not), going to be evidence that she might be up the duff? Is that what we've really come to, as a nation, in the way we see our public figures? If so, I find it all rather sad.

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
Photo: Getty Images
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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.