"Dr" Morrissey accuses Kate Middleton of faking her illness

The former Smiths frontman doesn't like the Royals, does like conspiracy theories.

In an interview with New Zealand’s 3 News, Morrissey has accused Kate Middleton of feeling "no shame" about the suspected suicide of Jacintha Saldanha, and described the British monarchy as a dictatorship, encapsulated by a history riddled with "murder… mayhem and slaughter."

In what was a wide-ranging interview that will no doubt capture the public’s attention, Morrissey also suggested that the British press and Clarence House put severe pressure on Saldanha, something which he believes ultimately led to her death.

Asked if he felt there should have been a counter-culture reaction to the Diamond Jubilee earlier this year, like there was during the Silver Jubilee in 1977, Morrissey said:

Yes, I think there should be but I think things are different now. There’s a more firm grip on the press. The print media has more of a stranglehold and it’s very difficult for anything to slip through, whereas back in the days you just mentioned, they weren’t quite prepared for that. It’d never really happened before, so they weren’t expecting it, but now they’re going to great lengths to keep anybody with an oppositional voice at bay and that’s how dictatorships work.

When pressed on why he deemed the Royal Family a dictatorship, he said:

Well, it’s difficult not see them as a dictatorship. What else are they? A self-elected monarchy. If you study the history of the monarchy it’s murder and mayhem and slaughter, so what is there to celebrate? And certainly in England, I don’t know about the rest of the world, but one cannot say anything against them. And even with the recent story about the nurse killing herself at King Edward Hospital, there is no blame placed on Kate Middleton, who was in the hospital, as far as I can see, for absolutely no reason. She feels no shame about the death of this woman, and she’s saying nothing about the death of this poor woman. The arrogance of the British Royals is staggering, absolutely staggering. And why it’s allowed to be I really don’t know.

Does she [Middleton] have a health condition? Is it anorexia or is it pregnancy? … I mean morning sickness already? So much hoo haw and then suddenly as bright as a button as soon as this poor woman dies she's out of hospital? It doesn't ring true. And I’m sure the Palace and Clarence House put maximum pressure on this poor nurse and of course that’s kept away from the press. I’m sure the British press hounded this poor woman to her death. That’s kept away [from the public] and by this time next week she’ll be forgotten, and that’s how the British Royals work.

He added that the two Australian DJs, who have been roundly blamed in the British press, were actually not the main causes of the tragedy:

It was a prank call and they probably didn’t ever think they’d ever get as far as they did. And I’m sure thousands of prank calls are made to Buckingham Palace everyday - people probably do it all the time. The fact that they got so far probably astonished them beyond belief, but the pressure put on the woman who connected the callers was probably so enormous that she took her own life. It wasn’t because of two DJs in Australia that this woman took her own life, it was the pressure around her. And, of course, the Royals are exonerated as always, they’re just so wonderful and we focus on something else, two DJs in Australia, and it’s not how it should be.

The interviewer then suggested that the Royal family had "refashioned itself," to which Morrissey retorted:

They had to do that because they were losing their grip. So they put themselves forward as the Topshop royals, and drag in Kate Middleton as the voice of youth, and therefore with the Olympics, or anything else that’s happened in recent years, they hijack every event to make sure any celebration of England is really a celebration of the Royal Family, which of course it isn’t, but the Royal Family believe they are England and nothing else is England. And if you live outside London it’s not England anyway. But the way they hijack everything and shove their face in is extraordinary because what do they say? Please tell me one thing the Queen has ever said, or William and Kate. I mean, they are zombies but they are a business and it works. 

They are not [tourist attractions] because tourists don’t come to sit down with William and Kate and have tea with the Queen. They go to see Buckingham Palace, and so forth, which will always be there, and that’s why tourists go. They don’t come to meet any member of the extended Royal Family. They are not a tourist attraction. The history of England is a tourist attraction. We don’t need the flesh and blood Royals now. They should retire and resign.

Morrissey’s questionable insinuation that Kate Middleton was in hospital for spurious reasons will no doubt grab the headlines, but in a world where most musicians and pop stars are now bereft of opinion, it’s nothing if not interesting to hear somebody so forceful in theirs. I’m sure it’s times like these, however, that David Cameron maybe wishes he hadn’t pursued his association with Morrissey so aggressively, since their opinions differ so greatly. 

Rob Pollard is a freelance writer. You can follow him on Twitter @_robpollard

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Social media tome #Republic questions the wisdom of crowds

Cass R Sunstein explores how insulation pushes groups towards more extreme opinions.

Cass Sunstein, one of the leading public intellectuals in the United States and a former Obama administration official, has worried and written for more than 15 years about the effects of the internet and digital communications on democracy. This book, his third on the subject, tackles social media.

The heart of his argument lies in the cumulative, collective effect of what individuals do online. Networking, shopping, dating and activism are all transformed by the engine of opportunity that is the internet. But those new links and choices produce a malign side effect: “filter bubbles”, inside which like-minded people shut themselves off from opinions that might challenge their assumptions. Insulation pushes groups towards more extreme opinions.

Sunstein’s organising principle is the ­difference between consumer and political sovereignty. The former promotes individual choice despite its possible consequences; the latter takes into account the needs of society as a whole. His inspiration is Jane Jacobs, the historian of US cities who celebrated, in poetic language, the benign and enriching effect on democracy of random encounters between citizens on pavements and in parks. How do we now reverse or dilute the polarisation driven by Facebook and Twitter?

The solutions Sunstein proposes for this very difficult problem are oddly tentative: websites stocked with challenging ideas and deliberative debates, voluntary self-regulation and “serendipity buttons”. He rightly stresses transparency: we know far too little about the algorithms that sift news for our attention on the networks. Facebook has talked about trying to show news that is “engaging” and “interesting”, without ever engaging in detailed public discussion of what these words mean. The disclosure requirements for social networks “require consideration”, Sunstein writes, without saying whether Facebook might have to be required legally to explain precisely how it routes news to almost two billion users.

Sunstein’s most interesting arguments are myth-busters. He questions the “wisdom of crowds”, while refraining from pointing out directly that the single strongest argument against this idea is the inequality of opinions. Not all opinions are equally valuable. He warily suggests what only a very few American voices have so far dared to say: that the First Amendment to the constitution, which guarantees a free press, should not be treated – as the courts have recently tended to do – as an equally strong protection for the freedom of all speech.

Sunstein is nostalgic for the media system and regulation of the past. I spent years working for a daily “general-interest” newspaper (the Times) and regret the decline of those outlets as much as he does, yet there is no reversing the technological and economic changes that have undermined them. It might have been a mistake to deregulate television in the United States, and killing the “fairness doctrine” might have had unforeseen effects, but that does not deal with the dilemmas thrown up by WhatsApp or Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter.

Users of these platforms face the problem of managing abundance. Writers such as Sunstein imply that people who lock themselves in filter bubbles are deplorably unable to break out of their informational isolation. But we all now live in bubbles that we design to make sense of the torrent of information flowing through our phones. Better-designed, heterogeneous bubbles include the unexpected and the challenging.

Yet the problem lies deeper than the quality of your bubble. Polarised societies can no longer agree on how to recognise the truth. Filter bubbles play a part, but so do a preference for emotion over reason, attacks on scientific fact from religion, decades of public emphasis on self-fulfilment, and a belief that political elites are stagnant and corrupt. Like many journalists, Sunstein treats the problem of a malfunctioning communications system as a supply-side matter: the information being generated and distributed ought to be better.

In the case of fake news, that is indisputable. But there is also a demand-side problem, one that hinges on the motives of those consuming information. If, inside their bubbles, people are not curious about alternative opinions, are indifferent to critical thinking and prefer stoking their dislike – of, say, Hillary Clinton – will they have even the slightest interest in venturing outside their comfort zone? Do we have a right to ignore the views of others, or an obligation to square up to them? Millions of Americans believe that one of the most important guarantees in their constitution is the right to be left alone – and that includes being left alone by the New York Times.

Sunstein does not venture far into this territory. He only hints that if we worry about what people know, we must also worry about what kinds of societies we build. Globalisation has reshaped communities, dismantling some and building others online, but the net effect has been to reduce deliberation and increase a tendency to press the “Like” button, or loathe opponents you can’t see or hear. The ability to debate civilly and well may depend on complex social chemistry and many ingredients – elite expertise, education, critical thinking, culture, law – but we need to be thinking about the best recipes. 

George Brock is the author of “Out of Print: Newspapers, Journalism and the Business of News in the Digital Age” (Kogan Page)

#Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media
Cass R Sunstein
Princeton University Press, 328pp, £24.95​

George Brock is a former managing editor of The Times who is now head of journalism at City University in London.

This article first appeared in the 22 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The zombie PM

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