I don't Hate the Royals (I just don't see the Point)
When I told colleagues and friends that I would be in the UK this week, they all came to the same conclusion: “Are you going back for the Royal wedding?”. Although I might question how well these people know me, I can’t blame them for thinking that I would make a pilgrimage back to Windsor to pay my respects to the happy couple. After all, I’m British. In German minds, the British love many things; football, beer, tea at 4 o’clock, but most of all the British love the Royal Family. This may appear to be a generalisation, but during my time in Germany, I have fielded the Royal question more than any other. Whenever I have been asked to give my opinion about the Royals I feel conflicted, not over whether I like them, but over whether it is worth bursting the bubble of someone who sees the British and more pointedly the English as loyal subjects of the Queen. As Katja pointed out in Monday’s guest blog, I am not shy about sharing my feelings on the Royalty. They are as redundant as a Bakelite VCR.
However, expressing this opinion is unpopular with the Germans and apparently everyone else. It often seems that not only do the British adore the Royals (upwards of 76% according to recent polling), but all other nations do to. They admire the Queen’s longevity; her stoicism and I’m assuming her hats. For the non-British, the Royals are glamourous representatives of what it means to be British, and as Katja observed they are symbolically important. The Queen is the head of the British state, she asks the Prime Minster to form governments and she greets world leaders. A meeting with the Queen lends legitimacy in a way that few other countries can really offer, given the required lavishness, ceremony and protocols that go with any state visit. When it was announced that President Trump would be visiting the UK, there was a public discussion about whether he should have an audience with the Queen. For some British politicians, obsessed with Britain’s “special relationship”, the meeting between Elisabeth II and Donald Trump could only reinforce ties across the Atlantic.
Symbolic power is one thing, but one of the other possible reasons that the Royals seem to have unwavering support around the globe is that they a merely figureheads. The Queen and by extension her family are a benign curiosity of the British. They open supermarkets, support charities and wave professionally from gilded carriages. They are fun, an object of low level gossip or fashion tips. My dislike of the Royal Family is therefore perceived as petty or misguided. I am a curmudgeon and a pedant, picking apart a perfectly nice, innocent quirk of history. Worse, in some quarters of Britain I would be labelled anti-British, a self-hating Englander who only wants to do down our scepter'd isle. I don’t really think I am any of these things, but I suppose in the end, you will be the judge.
I could present an economic argument, as the UK pressure group Republic have done extensively. I could offer the political argument that, despite the expectation that the monarch has no day to day involvement in British politics, Prince Charles has been shown to have lobbied the government on a range of issues. I could mitigate the bad taste these arguments may seem, by stating that at a personal level, I basically admire many of the Royals. The Queen is the embodiment old school British values of self-sacrifice and duty, while William and Harry have turned out to be miraculously well adjusted given the very public traumas they have suffered since Princess Diana passed away.
In fact, over the last few months, I have begun to understand something I could never really get my head around before. The Royal Family and more importantly, the Queen are the perfect representatives of the British state. In a country that has a rapidly expanding gulf between rich and poor, where social mobility depends on where you were born and personal and/or family connections can be the difference between success and failure, what better group to lead us than the Royals. Britain is an inherently unfair country and what better way to show that then preventing anyone but I specific member from a specific family from achieving the highest office of state. Sure, the Prime Minster and government execute that power, but symbolically no commoner will ever be head of state.
Britain has increasingly been criticised for its draconian surveillance laws and again, the Royal family are here to represent this aspect of Britishness. There is surely no family more observed than the Windsors, whether engaging in some harmless Nazi cosplay or sunbathing topless, tabloids at home or abroad can be relied on to fall over themselves to grab voyeuristic images of them. As Megan Markle has surely realised following the reporting on her father, you don’t even need to be a Windsor to face the full force of some of the lowest scum working in hack journalism today.
Britain, as crime statistics show, has seen a rise in hate crimes and thankfully the Royals and the addition of Megan Markle provide an outlet for this too. As British tabloid reaction to the announcement of the Harry’s and Megan’s engagement shows, the Royals can also be racially abused, although less directly than ordinary people, but with equal measures of hate. It says something that Prince Harry was required to directly criticise tabloid reports for the “racial undertones” of reporting. That's not to mention the casual racism that some members are happy to perpetuate.
Barring the unpredictable, it is unlikely Britain will ever dispense with the Royal family, just as it is unlikely that Britain will suddenly become a utopia of acceptance, fairness or racial harmony. Commentators can declare this weeks wedding represents change, and maybe there is some truth in that. Yet, I doubt it will be the real change that the UK desperately needs. Others declare a new chapter of the modern Royal family, I would imagine than modernity has no place for hereditary privilege, but then again, I’m just a curmudgeon.