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by Ray Fleming

I T is always unwise for senior ministers to comment on events back home when they are on the road. David Cameron fell into the trap in India on Tuesday when he sprang to the defence of the Duchess of Cambridge over allegedly offensive remarks made about her by the author Hilary Mantel. FIrstly, he took on a responsibility that is not his. (has not Tony Blair warned him about loose comments on royalty?). Secondly he admitted he had not seen the exact words that had apparently given offence. Thirdly he called the Duchess “Princess Kate” and “Kate Middleton” when it is known that she now prefers to use “Catherine”. As I have said often before, the prime minister needs better public relations support than he gets at the moment.

As to the substance of Mantel's words, they were certainly not the effusively complementary stuff that Mailists like but those shouting “vicious” and “venemous” have probably not looked at their context in a long speech about perceptions of royalty through the centuries (subsequently printed in the London Review of Books.) Mantel's highly-praised novels about Tudor times have recently won two Man Booker Prizes and a Costa award; it is rather disturbing that someone of her distinction cannot offer a few controversial but well-argued observations without being assailed as she has been in the past couple of days.