3 NOVEMBER 2007, Page 16

The royal blackmail story is remarkable for the absence of outrage

The collapse of the mystique surrounding the royal family means that these tawdry allegations are met with a collective shrug rather than a national outcry, says Rod Liddle Isuppose there must be someone left in Britain who is surprised or shocked that a minor member of the royal family has alleged homosexual tendencies and is partial to the odd snort of cocaine. Lord Charteris of Amisfield, for example — formerly the Queen's private secretary — would at least have pretended to be appalled, but he's been dead for seven long years. Frankly, I suspect most British people would shrug their shoulders with resignation and boredom even if it were reported that a fairly important royal had been photographed mainlining anthrax spores while fellating a pine marten. The newspapers, denied the right to inform their readers of the identity of the blackmail victim, instead directed them to a whole bunch of websites which had blithely ignored the injunction. 'Yesterday the name of the person was only a click of a mouse and a ten-second internet trawl away,' the Daily Mail said in a forlorn attempt at breathlessness on Tuesday this week. I bet very few people took up the invitation.

(I did, mind, on your behalf. One of the sites not only yielded up the name of the victim but also informed me that Kemal Ataturk's creation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923 was a Jewish plot — as indeed was almost everything else of allegedly malign consequence which happened during the 20th century. Including, interestingly, Auschwitz. So, I thought, those are the sort of people who think minor royal misdemeanours are interesting. In fact, the sites which chose to print the name of the royal were either antiSemitic conspiracy theorist blogs, or bottomof-the-barrel trash-celeb sites, or supposedly respectable Australian newspapers. In each case a certain agenda was at work.) The British newspaper editors, meanwhile, just about managed to shout 'hold the front page', rather feebly, without great enthusiasm, for a day. After that, the royal gay sex blackmail stuff was booted well and truly inside, even when the papers had got photographs of the men accused of doing the blackmailing. Page one was reserved for our more modern obsession, the McCanns, and another barrage of speculative gibberish (Is Maddie hidden in the Moroccan mountains? We haven't a f—ing clue'), spite and innuendo. Ian Strachan, the floppy-haired, pudding-faced royal hanger-on accused of jointly instigating the blackmail, has clearly set his cap at the wrong sort of royalty — the old royalty, which nobody very much cares about any more. He would have been more handsomely rewarded, perhaps, if he'd hung out with Kate and Gerry, got some mobile phone snaps of them not grieving properly and spending money on food instead of scouring the Atlas mountains with a spade. That would have been page one for several days.

In fact, that's the really interesting thing about this story — its magnificent lack of impact. It was evident even in the comparatively small sum which the blackmailers reportedly attempted to extort from the House of Windsor in exchange for not publishing the incriminating photographs — £50,000, or just about enough to feed their own coke habits (if they have one) for a few months. And remember, blackmailers have a tendency to overestimate the magnitude of their hold over their chosen victims. And it was evident too in the speed with which the story migrated to the inside pages of our newspapers and in the comparatively candid response from both the police and the royal family. Indeed, it is being suggested right now that the victim may well come clean and spill the beans to the press, so that by the time you read this the name may well be in the legitimate public domain and you won't have to log on to Letskillallthejews.com.

Partly this is a result of our acceptance of both homosexuality and class A drugs. Whereas 40 years ago the 'sex act' allegedly performed by this blue-blooded 936th heir to the throne would have warranted a prison sentence or at least a hefty fine and public and personal disgrace, it will soon be effectively illegal to describe the said act as lewd or disgusting or sordid. I do not wish to turn into The Spectator's version of Richard Littlejohn — god forbid — but it is nonetheless true that if you were to complain to the police that you saw two men going at it like knives in your local park and you felt degraded by having witnessed this spectacle, the best you can expect is to be told to mind your own business and in future look the other way. The worst would be a visit from some ghastly hate-crime copper and a stern lecture about one's regrettably antediluvian attitudes. And, in truth, while a good half of the population find homosexuality a filthy practice, or, more simply, 'wrong' (according to the latest opinion poll), there is no longer any public appetite for dragging practitioners before the courts; instead a rather healthy live-and-let-live attitude seems to prevail. Similarly, we are no longer terribly disquieted by illegal drugs. The social stigma attached to smoking now outweighs that which attaches to those who snort half of the Colombian GDP every few days; at the same time alcohol 'abuse' (i.e., getting rat-arsed every now and again) is now the focus of government opprobrium. We are no longer allowed to feel comfortable imbibing our legal drugs of choice and so the notion of transgression implied in the consumption of illegal drugs such as cocaine is substantially diminished. I have always assumed, without the tiniest shred of evidence, that all younger members of the royal family are possessed of noses which may very well soon fall off through prodigious consumption of cocaine. The horrible nightclubs they frequent have, in some cases, been forced to remove the lids to their lavatories in order to stop customers hoovering up vast mounds of coke from on top of them. I have to say, as a commitment to preventing drug abuse, this strikes me as rather less rigorous than the approach adopted in, say, Singapore or Kuala Lumpur. But then I suppose a gibbet in the middle of the dance floor would be bad for business. But in any case at least one minor royal, Freddie Windsor, has admitted to having used cocaine in the past. (It's always 'in the past', isn't it? Youthful indiscretion, mere experimentation, student days, bad influence of peer group, etc. Yeah, as they say, right.) But more to the point, the thing which has changed even more dramatically is our relationship with the royal family. Might I suggest that some of the mystique, the natural deference, the regard has, well, evaporated? Call me a prude, but I don't think things have ever been the same since it was reported that Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, announced in a private correspondence to Camilla Parker Bowles that he would like to be reincarnated as one of her tampons. Reported, I ought to add, with enormous glee and jubilation.

To be sure, the Diana business — all of it, from those staged, crassly manipulative photographs of her looking distraught in front of the Taj Mahal, to the affair with the unpalatable Dodi Fayed and the terrible denouement — diminished the royal family in the eyes of the public and sucked from the institution vast reservoirs of respect. But Charles more than held his own for the republican cause. What on earth will they get up to next, we wondered to ourselves, when the tampon stuff hit the papers? At first the myriad transgressions were front-page news — Charles commending Islam, Charles ordering seven boiled eggs for breakfast in case he wasn't happy with the consistency of the yolk, Phil doing his usual xenophobic stuff while on royal visits, that delayed and hurried wedding of Charles and Camilla — until we all became bored with both, paradoxically, their shocking ordinariness and their silly idiosyncrasies. At the behest of a new breed of spin doctors and a sharp new government, the royal family attempted to be more accessible to their subjects while simultaneously continuing with the pretence that they were in some way exalted human beings. But you can't have it both ways.

The problem, then, for the palace publicity monkeys — as I suspect they are well aware — isn't the outrage which might be occasioned by this ham-fisted attempt at blackmail, but the utter lack of it. Drugs? Gay sex? Yeah, sure, we'd swallow all of that, no problem. Tell us something new.