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Modern Malvolio: Simon Schama has turned from a historian into a courtier 

The most cloying moments in public debate come when everyone is happy. When the public does not want to hear awkward facts, when the editor knows that the public does not want to hear awkward facts and when the journalist knows that the editor knows that the public does not want to hear awkward facts, a wet blanket suffocates essential discourse.

National euphoria produces a bias quite unlike the standard prejudices of the media. You will not normally read an article in defence of the European Union in a right-wing paper or of Israel in a left-wing one. Editors do not patrol the newsroom threatening to fire writers who step out of line, for they do not need to make threats. Everyone who works for them knows the score, and unspoken commands and social pressures ensure uniformity. A general censorship does not obtain, however. Just because you can never read a good word about the EU in a conservative paper, does not mean you cannot find praise for it elsewhere.

Events like the royal wedding, Blair's 1997 election victory and the mood of good cheer that enveloped the nation after David Cameron and Nick Clegg went into coalition, produce a wider suppression of unwelcome information for entirely different reasons. Editorial prejudices count for little, and market forces come into play. The public wants to hear good news, so that is what it gets. At best, broadcasters and editors give a small amount of space to a dissenting voice. But the dissenters are usually poseurs engaged in mere contrarianism: saying the opposite of what everyone else is saying just because everyone else is saying it. Readers and viewers realise the "dissent" is only for show, and rightly ignore it.

Disconcerting news is another matter. Before the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, a story emerged with long-term consequences for Britain, and few journalists wanted to face up to it. In a petty and pointed snub, the royal family refused to invite Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to the celebrations, while welcoming all previous Conservative prime ministers and many serving Tory ministers. Its efforts to deny that the monarchy was becoming politicised became ever more ludicrous. Blair and Brown were not members of The Most Noble Order of the Garter, it said. But then no more were former Labour prime ministers who came to the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana. Ah, replied the Palace, but Charles was heir to the throne in 1981. Prince William is not, so this wedding was a private affair rather than a state occasion. The explanation could not have been true because the Palace invited the ambassadors of dozens of countries to the supposedly private ceremony.

The truth in Blair's case is that no good deed goes unpunished. The Windsors have never forgiven him for saving their reputation after the death of Princess Diana and quoting Prince William in his memoirs. With Brown, they appear to dislike him for refusing to spend public money buying them a new yacht, or maybe they simply loathe centre-left politicians. Aristocrats generally do.

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June 3rd, 2011
2:06 PM
The fact that some ambassadors were there is irrevelant-it was not a state occasion. If it was then where were Sarkozy,Obama,Merkel etc.They would have all been invited ( and would have attended) if it was a state occasion. You seem to be taking the lack of invitations to Blair and Brown very personally.In your Observer column you said that former Labour prime ministers were banned from attending when you know perfectly well that not being invited to something is not the same as being banned. I would also refer you to the excellent columns you have written about Brown in the past.The idea that anyone not closely related to this hate-filled grotesque would invite him to what is supposed to be a happy occasion is absurd!

Andrew King
June 2nd, 2011
7:06 AM
I’m guessing that, if Prince Charles had any input on the guest list, he was overruled. As an outspoken cheerleader for the counter-enlightenment, I’m sure the ‘Defender of Faiths’ would have found plenty of common interests to discuss with the brains behind the Tony Blair Faith Foundation and he could have cheerfully chatted to Cherie about coffee enemas, crystal healing or whatever quack fads they’re respectively into at the moment. The sticking point was probably the notoriously media-unfriendly Mr Brown. You can imagine the usual wedding invitation negotiations: ‘If we invite your friend Tony, we’ll just have to invite Gordon and you know he doesn’t get on with anybody. After a couple of drinks he’ll start going on about post-neoclassical endogenous growth theory and before you know it he’ll call Philip a bigot or something. No, I’m going to have to put my foot down…’

ollie wright
June 1st, 2011
8:06 PM
Nick, excellent article. I find it deeply offensive that anyone thinks they have the right to become my head of state by inheritance. Wen that perosn is nonsense spouting, fascistic loon, its even more galling. Please, please keep on writing about him.

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