Alex Massie

Marie Antoinette is traduced again

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Like King Canute, Marie Antoinette is a much-misunderstood and, generally speaking, a much and unfairly maligned figure. Disappointingly, this time the guilty party is my old boss Iain Martin. For shame. Iain hazards that Peter Mandelson's suggestion that everyone try and keep their heads in these turbulent times since there is "no value in creating frenzy" is but the latest "Marie Antoinettish" comment from the noble lord.

In the first place, Marie Antoinette probably never said "Let them eat cake". Secondly, if she had she would scarcely have been the first to suggest that the populace switch to brioche in times of shortage. Thirdly, this would have been a perfectly sensible, if perhaps insensitvely phrased, recommendation, given French regulations governing the price of bread etc etc.

In other words, comparing Lord Mandelson to Marie Antoinette is either manifestly unfair to the French Queen or, more hazardously, a compliment to the former member for Hartlepool. Iain is doubtless right to think that Mandelson's argument is hardly in tune with the temper of the times, but what if Mandelson is right? Of course, it's easier for Mandelson to say such things, safe in the knowledge that the public will stock the tumbrils with Labour members of the Commons, not the Lords...

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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