It is a scandal unparalleled in our time. A shameful attack on the character of our nation. We demand satisfaction for the grievous insult against our fair princess.
OK, not really.
More than two weeks ago, Hilary Mantel gave a speech, and a fortnight later, for no particular reason, the sky fell in.
She spoke about the role of royal women over the years, describing the Duchess of Cambridge as “machine made,” “painfully thin.. without the risk of the emergence of character.”
Perhaps not something you’d write on her birthday card, but anyone reading the full text of her speech would quickly realise she was, in fact, sticking up for the Duchess, criticising the restraints imposed on so many women in similar roles down the years.
For example: “It may be that the whole phenomenon of monarchy is irrational, but that doesn’t mean that when we look at it we should behave like spectators at Bedlam. Cheerful curiosity can easily become cruelty.”
David Cameron, it seems, is not much of a reader.
You might think our political leaders had better things to do than compete to defend the honour of a princess.
But the Prime Minister decided to interrupt a visit to India to deliver his critical appraisal of Hilary Mantel’s speech - calling her words “completely misguided.”
Hours later Ed Miliband piled in, perhaps fearing he’d fallen behind in the chivalry stakes, and said much the same.
Now be honest: do the words of David Cameron or Ed Miliband inspire you? Do you soar to ecstatic heights as their speeches pour into your ears? Didn’t think so.
Hilary Mantel writes books for a living. And by any reasonable measure, she’s pretty good at it.
So it’s perhaps wise if you’re going to start laying into one of the country’s most respected writers to actually read what she’s said. Maybe take a little time to think about it, and consider whether your comments will enhance the debate.
If the Prime Minister or Leader of the Opposition, or even someone working for them, had taken the time to read Mantel’s speech, they would have come across a rather interesting section, where she talks about “a compulsion to comment, a discourse empty of content, mouthed rather than spoken.”
That’s what we expect of newspaper columnists and radio phone-in hosts -- meaningless outrage, served to order to keep things boiling away.
But when political leaders join in, they lend this dubious practice an undeserved credibility.
Hilary Mantel wasn’t criticising the Duchess of Cambridge. She was criticising people who make lazy, ill-informed comments for no reason than to hear their own voice.
Now, who could that refer to?