The Royal Family has just survived its first brush with the culture war.
It turns out if you want to outsmart woke millennials, you need a great-grandmother who still remembers the Blitz and, at 93, absolutely does not have time for your nonsense.
The press release issued by Buckingham Palace made the Queen’s offer to Harry and Meghan sound like an act of kindness and understanding. ‘Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved members of my family,’ Her Majesty’s statement ran. ‘I recognise the challenges they have experienced as a result of intense scrutiny over the last two years and support their wish for a more independent life.’
Come off it. The Sussexes have lost the right to use their HRH titles, will no longer represent the Queen at official engagements and will have to repay the £2.4m spent refurbishing their Frogmore Cottage residence. Her Majesty drives a hard bargain. Put her in charge of the Brexit negotiations. We’ll be out by Thursday and gain half of Belgium in the process.
I’m reminded of the scene in The Godfather Part II, where mafia don Michael Corleone appears to forgive his treacherous brother Fredo with a kiss at their mother’s funeral. We come to realise, however, that it is il bacio della morte — the kiss of death — and Fredo is later dispatched on his brother’s orders. The Queen, a Corleone with corgis, may appear from her statement to forgive her grandson’s attempt to bounce her but she was really saying: ‘I know it was you, Harry. You broke my heart.’
The British press is calling this rebuke to the most right-on royals a ‘hard Megxit’, though I prefer the New York Post’s headline: ‘The Great British Break-Off’. A young, wearily certain couple decided they wanted to enjoy the privileges of royalty without the responsibilities and thought they could embark on a ‘progressive new role’ while cashing in on their regal brand. That’s how many will see this affair, as typical of a pampered and wilful generation that expects everything handed to it on a silver platter.
But to Harry and Meghan’s supporters — and they are legion on social media — the duchess has been driven out by a campaign of insidious racism. Accusations like this should never be dismissed out of hand but the charge against the Duchess of Sussex’s critics is all the more difficult to evaluate for the failure of those levelling it to present tangible evidence.
That fundamental clash between those who believe this is a tale of entitled aristo-stars and those who say it’s a story of racial prejudice against a mixed-race woman was played out on last Thursday’s Question Time. The actor Laurence Fox was the token sleb on the BBC One panel show, a role which generally calls for stridency and leftist political views. Fox certainly fit the bill in the first regard but, in a damning indictment of BBC editorial safeguards, he managed to sneak right-wing wrongthought onto the air.
During the programme, audience member Rachel Boyle, a lecturer in race and ethnicity at Lancashire’s Edge Hill University, said the Duchess of Sussex was a victim of ‘racism’ — ‘she’s a black woman and she has been torn to pieces‘. Fox objected that it was ‘not racism’, adding that it was ‘so easy to just throw your charge of racism at everybody and it’s starting to get boring now’. Boyle then branded him a ‘white privileged male’, leading Fox to characterise that statement itself as racist.
It was all a bit unseemly, plus Lily Allen pronounced on her Instagram account afterwards that she was ‘sick to death of luvvies like a Lawrence [sic] Fox going on TV and forcing their opinions on everybody else, when he’ll never have to deal with what normal people have to deal with in his gated community.’ So, in addition to a race row, there will also have to be a funeral held for irony.
The culture wars are intractable and, frankly, boring but what Team Markle fails to grasp is that British press and public opinion towards the Duchess of Sussex is driven by a very firm sense of what the monarchy should be and how royals ought to conduct themselves. Many Britons, most of them staunch royalists, have been troubled by Harry and Meghan’s seeming elision of monarchy and celebrity, their dalliances with politics, and a lifestyle that fails to meet up to the ethical guidelines they preach for everyone else.
A recently surfaced video from July 2019, in which the Prince appears to tout his wife’s voiceover experience to Disney CEO Bob Iger at the London premier of the Lion King, did nothing to dispel these bugbears. Also last year, they posted on Instagram: ‘With nearly 7.7 billion people inhabiting this Earth, every choice, every footprint, every action makes a difference‘ — then took a private jet on holiday to Nice.
Earlier this month, the couple withdrew from the royal rota, which gives national correspondents access to events featuring senior royals, and said they would instead speak to ‘young, up-and-coming journalists’. As the hack who broke the story put it, the Sussexes ‘don’t want to be covered critically by the media… they want to be covered by the people who adore them’.
Progressives who embrace the pair for striking the right poses about climate change and gender only underscore how far progressive politics has strayed from class and income. The left, which is supposed to consider hereditary monarchy a bastion of unearned privilege, is gushing over a scion of the House of Windsor and a Hollywood actress as though they were the Jarrow marchers.
Like the Queen herself, the British public has shown extraordinary patience towards the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, more than was shown Sarah, Duchess of York when she found adjusting to royal life difficult and begat various blunders along the way. Harry and Meghan have spurned their duties, and had they done so for love and gone off to live quiet lives, there would be a great deal of sympathy for them. Instead, they tried to keep the baubles and lose the burdens and in doing so struck many as emblematic of a feted, self-righteous elite that owes the masses the golden soapbox from which it speechifies to them.
Their antics could have been the kiss of death for the monarchy, and so the Queen made them an offer they couldn’t refuse.
We learned over the weekend that John Mason, the SNP MSP who says he won’t speak up for pro-Union constituents, asks voters to disclose their political beliefs and voting intentions when contacting him.
All very dubious but I was drawn to another section of the questionnaire: ‘I would like to receive John Mason’s newsletter by email’ or ‘I would like to receive John Mason’s newsletter by post’. There was no option for ‘I would like to receive John Mason’s resignation letter by the end of the week’.
It should probably concern us that there are seemingly people out there who volunteer to receive Mason’s newsletter but, then, he does espouse some… interesting views. Like the time he said ‘Skye cannot be an island because it now has a bridge to the mainland’ or that the proposition ‘God created the world in six days’ could not ‘be proved or disproved by science’.
In the olden days, eccentrics used to write letters to their MP in green ink. Nowadays, all the eccentrics are in parliament and all the green ink’s on expenses.
As part of the UK Government’s plans to overhaul Britain’s political institutions, the House of Lords is reportedly set for a relocation to York. York is a picturesque city with much to recommend it: good chocolates, great beer, the stunning York Minster and Clifford’s Tower, a keep from Norman times with breath-taking views of the old city and sometimes as far as the moors. What I don’t understand is what this gem of English heritage has done to deserve the House of Lords. Shame the Romans didn’t build those walls a few feet higher.
Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Letters: email@example.com. Contact Stephen at firstname.lastname@example.org. Feature image © NASA/Bill Ingalls.