Here is a story that illustrates much about the modern world. A woman known for speaking her mind criticises another woman for not speaking her mind, and as a result she (the first woman) is criticised for speaking her mind.
Sandi Toksvig is not everyone’s cup of herbal tea, but she hardly represents the forces of sedition. In one of those question-and-answer newspaper interviews – perfectly satirised in Private Eye as “Me and My Spoon” – Ms Toksvig posited the idea that “Kate Middleton is not enough for me”, saying that the Duchess of Cambridge’s apparent lack of a world view is “very Jane Austen”. “I can’t think of a single opinion she holds,” said Toksvig, who, in the course of the interview, also “revealed” that she (Toksvig) likes being 5ft tall, that she got a red scooter for her fourth birthday, and that she learnt how to do plumbing from an instruction manual.
It’s safe to say that she was not exactly courting controversy in offering up some random thoughts. But unsurprisingly, in the wake of Booker Prize winner Hilary Mantel making similar comments about the Duchess, Toksvig found herself in the papers, characterised as something of a Republican rabble-rouser.
Should we really care what Sandi Toksvig thinks about Kate Middleton? With due respect to her excellence as host of The News Quiz on Radio 4, she’s not quite a national figure whose every utterance is of import. Even in the roster of prominent lesbians, she ranks a long way behind the saintly Clare Balding. Much more interesting to find out what Kate Middleton thinks of Sandi Toksvig. Oh well, I suppose we’ll never be told. We don’t know anything of what goes on in the Duchess’s mind, and in a world where hardly any thought goes unexpressed, and hardly any expression goes without comment, that may be a very positive position for someone who lives squarely in the public eye. In any case, what fury would be unleashed if she suddenly started opining about everything from X-Factor to the bedroom tax?
Toksvig, in comparing Kate Middleton to an Austen heroine, said: “We used to admire women who got their place in life through marriage and having children, but I’d like to think we’ve grown up a bit.” Well, only up to a point. I’m not sure how the more conservative forces in the media would react if the wife of the second in line to the throne took a political stance, like, say, her late mother-in-law. Or, rather, I am sure. She’d be forcibly encouraged to get back in her box, accused of abusing her privileged position – as a royal – to influence public debate, and criticised for neglecting her God-given position – as a woman and mother-to-be - to meddle in matters that are not her business. A grown-up society? I don’t think so.
Sandi Toksvig claimed that she was once in the running to present Have I Got News For You but was told: “We can’t possibly have a woman in charge of the news”. She, more than anyone, should be able to understand why the Duchess of Cambridge has taken a vow of silence.