Teaching Miss Middleton

Will Andrew Roberts be giving lessons to a future queen?

Yesterday, Johann Hari sent a dramatic message on Twitter:

Kate Middleton is being advised by a far right-winger who blames concentration camp victims for their own deaths.

This linked to the following on Hari's own blog, which stated:

It has been revealed that a far right-winger who blames concentration camps victims for their own deaths is giving history lessons to Britain's future queen, Kate Middleton. Rod Liddle discloses in passing here that Andrew Roberts is "tutoring" her in the run-up to the royal wedding. To find out just who this "historian" is, read my exposé of him here. If Kate plays close attention to her new teacher's lessons, we can expect the wedding to be livened up by declarations that massacring unarmed civilians is "necessary" . . .

The semi-humorous Rod Liddle piece to which Hari linked in support of this news stated:

The historian Andrew Roberts is to give Kate a lesson in the history of the House of Windsor. "Mainly German and not terribly bright" should do it, I would have thought.

It appears that Liddle's intended meaning was that the first sentence was correct and the second sentence was a mirthful exaggeration or gloss.

However, it currently appears the only source for the Liddle assertion was in turn a parody piece by "Talbot Church" in the Independent of a couple of weeks earlier:

Mindful that not everyone knows the proud history of the royal family, aides have asked pint-sized historian Andrew Roberts to talk the bride-to-be through the history of the House of Windsor.

There appears to be no other published source.

So, is Andrew Roberts to be providing tuition to Kate Middleton?

I asked Clarence House, which categorically denied that Roberts had been asked or would be asked.

A royal aide told me:

Andrew Roberts has not been invited to give constitutional history or other lessons to Miss Middleton. There are no plans to approach Andrew Roberts.

Clarence House also asked me to state:

Prince William's private office will organise a series of private meetings with key individuals for Miss Middleton to meet both before and after the marriage, with regard [to] preparing her to become a member of the royal family. These will include senior members of the royal household, key advisers to Prince William and Prince Harry, and representatives from some of Prince William's charities and other affiliations.

I also asked Andrew Roberts, via his agent, but have so far had no reply.

So, what is correct?

Will the historian Andrew Roberts be giving tuition to Kate Middleton, as Hari and Liddle confidently assert?

Or was Hari's worrying tweet based only on a semi-parody, which was in turn derived from a parody in Hari's very own newspaper?

Could Johann Hari and Rod Liddle really have got something like this wrong?

Who knows?

But I offer a royal wedding commemorative mug to the first person who can evidence the news that Andrew Roberts is to give such tuition.

UPDATE: Andrew Roberts has now also categorically denied the appointment.

FURTHER UPDATE: Johann Hari now admits that his tweet and blog post were based on a factual error and that Andrew Roberts was never invited to tutor Kate Middleton.

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman.

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

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What Labour's plotters are thinking

The ground may have shifted underneath Jeremy Corbyn's feet, at least as far as the rules on nominations are concerned. 

Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has been rocked by seven resignations from his shadow cabinet, as the attempt to remove the Labour leader gathers speed and pace.

I’m told there will be more to come. What’s going on?

As I’ve written before, the big problem for Labour’s Corbynsceptics is that Corbyn won big among party members in September and his support has, if anything increased since then. Although a lot of ink was wasted over fears of “entryism” which at the outside probably contributed about a percentage point to Corbyn’s 40-point landslide, it is “exitism”  - the exodus of anti-Corbynite members and their replacement with his supporters that is shifting the party towards its left flank.

Added to that is the unhelpfully vague wording of Labour’s constitution. It is clear that Corbyn’s challengers would need to collect 50 signatures from Labour MPs and MEPs to trigger a leadership challenge, a hurdle that the plotters are confident of hopping. It is less clear whether Corbyn himself would have to do so.

But what appears to have happened is that Iain McNicol, the party’s general secretary, has received legal advice that he should not put Corbyn on the ballot paper unless the parliamentary Labour party does so – advice that he is willing to put his job on the line to follow. McNicol believes that the NEC – which has a fragile Corbynite majority on some issues but not on all – will back him up on this matter. (Significantly, at time of writing, none of the three frontbenchers who hold NEC posts, which are in the gift of the shadow cabinet not the party’s leader, have resigned.)

McNicol himself is currently at Glastonbury. Also on his way back from that music festival is Tom Watson, the deputy leader, whose political protégés include Gloria DePiero, who resigned earlier today. Stiffening the resolve of Labour MPs that they can pull this off and survive the rage of the membership is a motion of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn passed by Wrexham constituency Labour party. The MP there is Ian Lucas, a respected MP from the party’s right, who is now on the backbenches but resigned from Tony Blair’s government in 2006 after Blair refused to set out his departure date.  That coup, of course, was organised by Tom Watson.

Watson is respected by Labour’s general secretaries, who are publicly supportive of Corbyn but many of whom would privately prefer to see the end of him. Crucially, they are even more opposed to John McDonnell, who has been a reliable ally to their leftwing opponents in internal elections.

As for party members, having called around this morning there is certainly some movement away from Corbyn, partly due to the Vice documentary and also due to the referendum campaign. My impression, however, is that the candidate they are looking for – someone who could have much of Corbyn’s politics but with greater political nous and the ability to bring together more of the PLP – doesn’t exist in the parliamentary party. There are some lower-ranked members of the 2010 and 2015 intakes who might fit the bill, but their time is far from ripe. It's also not clear to me how significant that movement away is in percentage terms - Corbyn won by 40 points and was 19 points clear of needing a second round, so his capacity to survive erosion is strong. 

Significantly, within the parliamentary party's three anti-Corbyn tendencies, “the let him fail and strike once” and the "we're stuck with him, keep quiet and do other things" factions are currently recessional and the “strike and strike until he gives up” faction is ascendant, adding to the pressure on the leadership, at least temporarily. The prospect of what may be a winnable election post-Brexit with a different leader - as one MP said to me, "Angela [Eagle] is not that good but she is good enough [should Brexit trigger a recession] - has Corbynsceptics less inclined to write off the next election. 

At the start of the year, I thought that no attempt to replace Corbyn before the election would work. That's still my “central forecast” – but a bet that looked more reliable than a ISA now looks rather shaky.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.