These should be anxious times for the House of Windsor. They are about to stage a lavish wedding at the very moment when their subjects will feel the full chill of austerity measures billed as the most severe in Britain’s postwar history. As Prince William Arthur Philip Louis of Wales, second in line to the English throne, and his girlfriend since student days, Catherine Elizabeth Middleton, are heralded into Westminster Abbey on April 29 by a Ruritanian phalanx of footmen and flunkies in gilt-edged robes, watched by a bejeweled congregation of aristocratic cousins including several crowned heads of Europe, their domestic television audience will include a good many who will have just received redundancy notices, sharply reduced welfare payments, or notification of the removal of much-cherished social services. April is the start of the financial year, when many of the Conservative-led government’s most stringent deficit-cutting measures begin to bite. Some see in this confluence of events the potential for public fury, even if, as yet, there are no tumbrils in sight. Witness the button worn by those British leftists who are refusing to celebrate the upcoming marriage. Its slogan, tucked below an image of a small crown: “Stuff the wedding, fight the cuts!”
Other clouds are gathering. At a time when the Firm, as the royal family styles itself, expected all eyes to be on William and Kate, there has come the unhappy distraction of the groom’s uncle. Prince Andrew, the Queen’s second son, has been in the newspapers for all the wrong reasons. First, State Department cables released by WikiLeaks revealed that US diplomats regarded the prince, who serves as a UK trade envoy, as “rude,” “cocky,” and impatient with anticorruption investigators poking their noses into British business efforts abroad. Next came some awkward details of the prince’s ambassadorial activities, including breaking bread with some of the world’s least democratic regimes, whether hosting Muammar Qaddafi’s son Saif—though, in that, Prince Andrew was in step with large chunks of the British establishment—or entertaining the son-in-law of Tunisia’s disgraced and ousted president at Buckingham Palace.
He has also shown a curious interest in Azerbaijan, making seven trade visits to the country since 2005, as well as traveling there three times in a “personal capacity” in the last three years alone. He dines frequently with President Ilham Aliyev—even as Amnesty International calls on the Aliyev regime to stop torturing dissidents. The prince has struck up a similar rapport with Kazakhstan, which he has also visited both officially and personally, on one occasion enjoying a goose hunt with the president for life, Nursultan Nazarbayev, another despot who has attracted Amnesty’s attention regarding torture. Intriguingly the prince is reported to have sold his Berkshire mansion, for which he had struggled to find a…
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