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Artillery Row

Everyone should be ashamed over Princess Kate but me

They spread unhinged fantasies while I asked sensible questions

Princess Catherine’s announcement that she is suffering from cancer should put a lot of spare bedroom-dwelling conspiracy theorists to shame. Her quiet dignity makes their prurient speculation seem all the more shameful. 

For weeks, drooling plebs have engaged in unhinged fantasies concerning the whereabouts of the Princess of Wales. #WhereIsKate was trending on social media, but #WhereIsYourSenseOfCommonDecency might have been more apt. Nonsense about health and relationship crises “trended” when we should have had respectful silence.

Worse — some so-called journalists have actually joined the kooks. Corbynite commentator Owen Jones has expressed contrition for feeding into this orgiastic rumour-mongering. It’s a bit late for that Mr Jones! Once, we would have simply had such people confined to the Tower of London, and there were advantages to that sort of approach.

Now, you might reasonably ask if I — a respectable journalist — engaged in conspiratorial speculation on this issue. The answer, of course, is no. 

True, I may have made some sceptical inquiries (soberly and cautiously wondering on Twitter, for example, if it was possible that Princess Catherine had been abducted by the FSB). I might have posed a few hypothetical questions (tentatively asking everyone I met if “buccal fat removal” implied the need for a long recovery period). 

But this is real journalism — very different from the sort of feverish imaginings of conspiracy theorists. The differences are obvious — I was questioning, whereas others were invasive, and I was doubtful, whereas others were dogmatic. Besides, I work in SW1, and most of them don’t even work in London.

Yet perhaps I shouldn’t be too hard on the loonies. Perhaps they were not being malicious but being misled. According to the Telegraph:

China, Russia and Iran are fuelling disinformation about the Princess of Wales to destabilise the nation, Whitehall sources believe…

China, Russia and Iran. I knew it was them! Even when it was the conspiracy theorists I knew it was them. 

I mean — think about it. There was no natural explanation for the monthslong non-appearance of one of the most beloved members of the Royal Family prompting online speculation. Of course it would take the sinister hand of Moscow or Beijing to make British people talk weirdly about the royals.

True, no actual evidence of the Kremlin or Zhongnanhai being at the root of Kate-related conspiracy theories has been released. In fact — this might sound a bit like a conspiracy theory in itself. But the difference is that conspiracy theories are published on Substack and sensible reports are published in Telegraph. It all makes sense.

Given these phenomena, the Khan Review’s proposal that an independent and impartial Office for Social Cohesion and Democratic Resilience be established is welcome. As Dame Sarah says, “local authorities are struggling to prevent, manage and contain the impact of conspiracy theories, disinformation and extremist activity”, and we need to “build up the evidence base on the interventions needed to counter conspiracy theories, disinformation and other acute and chronic threats.” 

The more interventions the better. An army of Marianna Springs, that’s what Britain needs. A BBC Verify for every local Facebook page. That’s the sort of Britain that we, and Princess Catherine, could really take pride in.

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