Sunday, 23 May 2010

Should the Duchess of York be sacked?

On the one hand, Sarah Ferguson has been caught demanding a fee to introduce a scam businessman to her trade envoy former husband. Introduction fees are nothing remarkable. Political parties regularly raise funds by offering the presence of, and potential conversations with, influential politicians. Undoubtedly, businesses pay fees to middlepersons for access to important people, whether for an innocuous charity dinner, a networking breakfast, or a meeting on a private yacht.

An introduction is a limited commitment. In Ferguson's case, it simply requires attending a sporting event with said businessman and on Prince Andrew's arrival introducing one to the other. Job done. Fee received. If a businessman is willing to pay a vast sum for such an introduction, then Ms Ferguson might be admired for taking such businessman for all he's willing to give. After all, an introduction implies no commitment on future business relationships—and Ferguson is in no position to offer such guarantees.

On the other hand, the former husband is a significant member of the Royal family. His duties as a national trade envoy require an image of absolute integrity, not to speak of his constitutional position as a senior Royal. Ms Ferguson's money-raising exploit exposes her husband to suspicions of bias and corruption, even though he is specifically exonerated from awareness of his former wife's secretive deal. His integrity may be compromised by association—even if the association is merely that he continues to morally support his former wife.

The problem now is that this exposé—faked entrapment by newspaper though it was—not only puts Ferguson's public position in doubt, it also raises questions about the propriety and impartiality of using senior Royals as ambassadors for trade. Undoubtedly, Prince Andrew wants to be active and, even more, to benefit national prosperity in return for the state benefits he receives. And there is a long history of Royals doing such work, not least the present Prince Philip, Prince Michael and Duke of Kent. But in an age of ethical foreign policies, can an envoy of the Queen, subject neither to election nor FOI requests, ever be seen to be acting in a completely impartial manner when drumming up trade for British businesses?

Leaving that question open, Ms Ferguson's compulsion for embarrassing the Royal family ought to be closed. Perhaps a decent family pension and compulsory retirement would help.

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