The Royals are following businesses and celebrities by weighing in on social issues, but could it kill the magic of the monarchy?
The Jubilee was good, wasn’t it? A four-day weekend, decent weather, and enough pageantry to get even the republicans among us feeling 2012-y. The concert was a highlight. A wonderfully eclectic mix of performers entertained us as the sun went down, before that awesome lighting show lit up the Palace.
Then came Prince William’s speech. All he needed to say was ‘thank you granny, haven’t you done well. Oh, and thanks all for coming’. Instead, he did something surprising. Following his father’s passion for conservation, he spent the whole thing talking about the environment.
“The pressing need to protect and restore our planet has never been more urgent,” he declared. William went on to namedrop environmental activists, spoke proudly of the issue’s rising prominence in the “global agenda”, and praised the “generation of young people who won’t accept the status quo.”
I think we were all too giddy with patriotism to notice, but this was the future King of England giving an overtly political speech at a landmark state occasion. And it wasn’t a one off.
Prince Charles had a go freestyling education policy while at the Commonwealth meeting in Rwanda, saying schools should devote equal attention to the history of slavery as the Holocaust; all the while berating the Government’s controversial deportation strategy.
By convention, the Royal Family are politically neutral. It’s the only way a parliamentary democracy can justify a hereditary head of state. Yet here they are following the trend of businesses and celebrities weighing in on social issues. Is this the right approach for them?
The Firm are in an unenviable position: should they stay silent and become irrelevant or play with fire and risk getting burnt?
Despite feeling compelled to speak out, they’ve still played it safe. Few would take issue with these causes, and they suggest a calculated tilt towards increasingly republican younger generations. But does it open a can of worms?
Those who stick their head above the parapet should prepare for incoming fire. The monarchy should brace for accusations of hypocrisy. The Royals rack up enough air miles to rival Leonardo Di Caprio, wear jewellery stolen through colonial plunder, and, until very recently, barred non-white staff from front of house positions. Perhaps they should get their own house in order first.
Then will come accusations of meddling. The Black Spider Memos aside, the Royal’s shady political interventions have historically failed to stray far from Private Eye. But their new willingness to grandstand is a reminder the Royals are a unique kind of celebrity, with the privileges and responsibilities of a head of state. Charles collecting suitcases of cash from the Qataris becomes fair game, as does the Queen’s lobbying.
Throughout the Jubilee, the Queen was portrayed in almost Jungian terms as the mother of the nation, a transcendent being. This is a major success for Royal communicators, who for years have lived under by the mantra “keeping the magic alive.” Descending into the real and often grubby world of politics threatens to break the spell. And if that happens, the party’s over.