Why shouldn't Fergie sell access to Prince Andrew?

Flogging influence for cash is an ancient practice in business, and the Windsors have hardly paid for the Duchess's silence

Fergie's in trouble again. She's reliable like that, more so than other members of the royal periphery, and a good target for a sting. When she's in the news, the news is bad news. And bad news for royalty means good news for newspapers.

As usual, she has apologised for the "embarrassment caused", referring to a "serious lapse in judgment". "I am very sorry that this has happened." As usual, the apology is a thinly veiled "foiled again, but I'll be back", her tears and regrets firmly focused on the impropriety of being caught out by the News of the World, rather than on the act in question.

All of which must only add to the sense of outrage seeping from the orifices of News International. But Rupert Murdoch doesn't have a monopoly on that stuff, at least not yet. Even the seasoned Roy Greenslade, on his Guardian blog, has heaped praise on the News of the World for its latest playing of the entrapment card as "in the public interest".

Certainly, it's in the public interest in the sense that the public are interested in it, although not as interested as Murdoch's editors would like. But moral outrage remains both hugely enjoyable for readers and hugely profitable for those that massage and manufacture it. The question is, though: why on earth shouldn't the Duchess of York sell "access" to the Duke for whatever price she wants?

What makes Prince Andrew so special that, as a man of influence in his capacity both as international playboy and British trade envoy, people shouldn't buy an introduction to him if they see fit? And why should it be so shameful to sell this introduction?

One objection seems to be that because Prince Andrew is royalty, he should be above this kind of thing. This is patent nonsense. Down the centuries, men and women of business and society have exchanged much more than money to gain access to court and the powerful figures at its centre. It is different today only in the sense that where the power to influence trade and national public image were once only a small part of royalty's gift, it is now transparently its entirety.

We don't keep our royal family in the style to which they have remained accustomed because we love them, but because, as a nation, we trade on the image they maintain abroad. Prince Andrew's recent appointment as chief sales rep for UK plc is simply the result of a vote for transparency in this respect, as well as a serious misjudgment – one suspects – about his aptitudes.

What about the objection that Fergie has no right to sell access to him? She only married Prince Andrew; she didn't make him or work to acquire him as a saleable asset. Well, aside from the fact that she evidently worked very hard indeed to become his bride, networking is big business today. Sizeable sums change hand all the time for introductions to individuals. Journalists no less than PRs trade on their contact books, and it's no different in the world of headhunting, or indeed in pretty much any other business from international finance to international aid.

More likely to stick is the idea that politicians and those they appoint – of which Prince Andrew is a kind of example – should not be sullied by cash-grubbing. It is more likely to stick because outrage over cash-for-questions episodes, no less than the expenses scandal, appears more justified.

But even if it were the case that Prince Andrew himself was party to the deal – which the palace has categorically stated he was not – it's still true that the way industries and corporations gain access to political power is through expensively maintained lobbying organisations. At the same time, lobbying of one kind or another remains the principal means by which those in power become attracted to one cause or another.

If we want to be outraged by all this, we would do far better to be outraged at ourselves, for participating in a society that long ago auctioned off notions of moral integrity for a kind of social creditworthiness much more suitable to advanced capitalist societies.

All that remains of morality is the kind of facile moralising prurience pedalled by the gossip industry, goaded on by cries of "it's not fair" when the rich and powerful reveal their immunity from the small-mindedness of the masses. As for Fergie, she's simply maxed out on one source of credit. But she'll most likely come up with another, sooner or later.

Henry VIII aside, former bed partners of royalty were usually pensioned off in exchange for their discretion. The size of the purse, and house, sometimes reflected continuing affections, but more often was a simple risk-calculation in which potential for embarrassment is offset against money.

With Fergie, whose potential for embarrassment is probably second to none, yet whose entitlement seems limited to little more than the right to stay in Prince Andrew's house when she's a bit strapped, the Windsors have screwed up, and screwed up royally.

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