Nick Powell delves into the recent problems faced by the Royal Family and questions whether there could be doubts over the future of the institution in the United Kingdom.
The very name ‘The United Kingdom’ shows how central the crown is as part of the culture of this country, and gives it a central purpose it simply doesn’t have in other countries.
Though monarchs in other states have far greater power than that of our own royal family, there is no country on earth that is more closely associated with its royalty than Britain. But now, as we approach 1100 years of English Kings and Queens on these islands, with scandal and distrust of the monarchy becoming an ever-increasing trend, has Prince Harry and Princess Meghan’s sudden departure exposed the beginning of the end of the institution?
Around seven in ten Britons still support the country having a monarchy and the Queen’s approval ratings remained at +73% at the turn of the New Year. So it would appear to be going fine, but Meghan and Harry’s shock decision has left many questions being asked, and laid bare the royal problems to the public in a way that Elizabeth II has seemingly feared her whole life. It is very rare for the 93-year-old to display any emotion that defers from her official duties, so to reveal the palace was “hurt” and then admit “they would have preferred them to remain full-time working members of the Royal Family” shows the significance of this moment.
There is a feeling that if this Union were to break up, the monarchy could soon follow, particularly with the considerably more unpopular Charles likely to inherit the throne from mother Elizabeth by the end of this decade.
Revealing in an ITV documentary that friends had warned her that the British tabloids “will destroy your life”, and that she was “existing, not living” in her Royal role, there was a sense of inevitability that former actress Meghan would soon feel unable to perform such a full-on role. The reason as to why it had become so full-on had largely been due to the sheer weight of negative press coverage, something Meghan had not been ready for. As an American, divorcée and BAME woman, it was always likely that some of the right-wing tabloids that dominate this country’s print media would have made her life as difficult as possible as the public adjusted to a new royal.
The sheer contrast of stories that she and Princess Kate, wife of Prince William, have faced, often concerning the same subject matter, has been stark. Indeed the invasion of privacy that certain tabloids have embarked upon has prompted legal action from Harry and Meghan. Although Kate faced an early barrage of abuse, labelled as “Waity Katie” for how long it took for William to propose during the 2000s and photographed topless by a long lens in 2013, inaccurate stories such as the one that suggested Meghan’s black mother was descended from slaves and her white father from royal servants, along with another that massively exaggerated the extent of gang violence in the former neighbourhood of her mother lead people to draw a conclusion that there is an agenda beyond the early ritual abuse of royal spouses.
It is, therefore, hard to lay the blame at the door of the higher royals. The Queen’s decision to prevent them from carrying out Royal Duties without payment has been her only real action against Harry and Meghan during this saga, and even that was part of a Royal convention that had very little chance of being overturned.
Ultimately, however we got here, it is clear that everyone has lost out of this situation. Harry and Meghan have lost all involvement in Royal Duties, which they had not hoped for, the Queen has lost a family member she would have relied on to carry out duties, and the country has lost a charismatic Prince and lost the chance of modernisation through a unique and powerful character in the Princess.
Losing Meghan and Harry, who were revered by many of the younger generation, is a blow to ensuring the solidification of youth support for the monarchy.
In 2016, only 54% of 18-34 year-olds actively supported the existence of a monarchy. That’s less than any other age category. There is a feeling that if this Union were to break up, the monarchy could soon follow, particularly with the considerably more unpopular Charles likely to inherit the throne from mother Elizabeth by the end of this decade.
Losing Meghan and Harry, who were revered by many of the younger generation, is a blow to ensuring the solidification of youth support for the monarchy. Not to mention another setback in trying to modernise the institution. Combine this with Prince Andrew’s controversial interview on Newsnight back in November, the likelihood is that this could mark a turning point for the Royal Family, and a ‘slimming-down’ could follow.
In the short-term, that will work. But what about in the long-term? As Harry and Meghan drift further away from the Royal Family, we are likely to hear just how they truly feel about the press, who seemingly couldn’t deal with a BAME American divorcee entering the royal family. If one of William’s three children falls in love with a person of colour, how will the tabloids react then? Indeed in an institution where the members have only recently gained the privilege of actually being able to choose who they marry, what if one was to marry a model? Indeed it seems unthinkable that one of the children could possibly be gay, but shouldn’t this be considered totally normal today?
In the early 1990s, the argument was that the Royal Family had to modernise to survive. In allowing Will to marry Kate and then Harry to marry Meghan, it showed the potential for change. What effectively amounted to a pop concert outside Buckingham Palace to celebrate the diamond jubilee in 2012, attended by the Queen herself was further evidence of this.
But until the barrage of press scrutiny against those who marry into the Royal Family ends, and in particular the heightened scrutiny against anyone who has any shred of difference about them, then the press will continue to weaken the institution in the eyes of the younger generation.