The death of Queen Elizabeth II marked the end of an era for the monarchy in many ways. She was the last senior royalty of a generation that will soon seem alien to modern monarchists.
During her 70 years on the throne, Elizabeth gave only one media interview that was limited to the subject of her coronation. She has never publicly stated a strong opinion on any subject that could be considered political or controversial. She avoided any kind of public intervention on how the UK’s public institutions should be run.
Indeed, the most controversial political moments during Elizabeth’s reign came from the indiscretion of others.
Former UK Prime Minister David Cameron said the Queen “purred” with joy when Scotland voted to remain part of the UK in a 2014 independence referendum. The Sun newspaper speculated in 2016 that the Queen supported Brexit, something former Buckingham Palace communications director Sally Osman quickly dismissed when interviewed on CNN earlier this week.
Contrast that with the royals who now lead the monarchy into a new and more uncertain future. Elizabeth’s eldest son, now King Charles III, embarrassed the family when letters he wrote to former Prime Minister Tony Blair between 2004 and 2005 were published.
While the letters seemed pretty innocuous – focusing on things like subsidies to farmers and, interestingly, the merits of publishing private letters like these – the fact that the first in line to the throne was so happy to express political views to the prime minister alarmed those who supported the convention that the monarchy is apolitical.
Charles also controversially supported the use of public money to provide homeopathy to the UK’s state-funded National Health Service. NHS England said in 2017 that it would no longer fund homeopathy because “the lack of any evidence of its effectiveness did not justify the cost”.
As unimportant as knowing Charles’ views on these matters at the time, it is worth remembering that throughout his reign we knew virtually nothing of Elizabeth’s personal views, let alone how she thought government funding should be distributed. .
“The monarchy has an enormous amount of indirect power in that it can influence public opinion on an issue, which is arguably more important than lobbying for ministers,” says Kate Williams, a leading royal historian and professor of engagement. audience with history at the University of Reading, UK.
She points to the time when Elizabeth II said Scottish voters should “think carefully about the future” as they left a church service in Scotland ahead of the 2014 referendum. referendum both sides could claim it was an endorsement of the rejection of independence,” adds Williams.
Strong views in the media
The seemingly incompatible mess of a monarch sharing views on these matters while remaining apolitical becomes more murky as we move generationally further away from the late queen.
The Prince and Princess of Wales were, like the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, very public activists for mental health. William, who will take the throne after Charles, has spoken publicly about his own struggles with mental health, particularly following the death of his mother Diana, Princess of Wales.
William has also used his platform to speak out against racism in football, strongly suggesting at a time when it was a major controversy in the sport that he supports players who kneel before matches, an issue that has sparked a huge backlash from many football clubs. in the United Kingdom.
The now first in line has had a difficult relationship with the British media, particularly the BBC, following revelations that one of his journalists, Martin Bashir, had used nefarious methods to secure an interview with his mother when she was extremely vulnerable following her divorce. with Charles.
At the moment, support for the monarchy is high. We witness both mourning for the late Elizabeth and sympathy for the new king, taking on her life role while mourning her mother. But that doesn’t mean support will stay high forever.
Charles, in a BBC documentary filmed on his 70th birthday in 2018, promised he would not meddle in controversial matters when he became king. Asked specifically if his campaign would continue, he said: “No, it won’t. I’m not that stupid.”
He added: “I tried to ensure that everything I did was non-partisan political, but I think it’s vital to remember that there’s only room for one sovereign at a time, not two. So you cannot be the same as sovereign whether you are the Prince of Wales or the heir.”
However, the problem facing the king and his heir is that they cannot put those comments back in the bottle. And the fact that these opinions exist will inevitably affect your relationship with the public for years to come, as we move away from the era of the inscrutable Elizabeth.
That said, republicanism was never very popular in the UK. Even last week, during official events, the protests were mostly limited to a small group of people, many of whom did little more than hold up pieces of paper. A disproportionate police reaction, in which some protesters were arrested, led to some media coverage and protests, but did not move the meter against the royals significantly.
Impaired ability to remain neutral
Elizabeth was a particularly popular monarch. Most public polls on the subject show that older royalists feel that her relative silence, compared to her successors, was dignified and preserved the integrity of the Crown.
Many of these traditional supporters, however, have historically been skeptical of Charles and would rather he follow in his mother’s footsteps.
On the other hand, the late queen was popular with younger royalists despite her silence. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why, but it’s plausibly just a by-product of Elizabeth always being on the throne and the younger ones not knowing otherwise.
However, what is also clear is that younger royalists approve of the royal family speaking out on issues that would previously have been considered very controversial for the queen.
“It’s entirely possible that the generation that thinks royalty should keep their mouths shut and not talk about issues like women’s rights and mental health will die,” says Joe Twyman, director of political research organization Deltapoll.
“For people of a certain generation, the idea of bowing to your grandmother every time you see her just because she’s the queen seems insane,” he added, referring to the discussion following Meghan Markle’s interview with Oprah Winfrey last year. past, in which she described how she found real life to be surreal at times.
This conflict over the precise role of the monarch is important because the institution lives or dies by whether the public thinks it’s worth it or not.
It is likely that there will always be traditional monarchists who will defend all their actions as long as they do not evolve or modernize. They tend to be the most ardent in support.
However, this group will likely become a minority before William takes the throne. If Charles lives to 99, like his father, William won’t become king until 2048. No credible social scientist could confidently say what public attitudes will be toward anything by then, be it the royal family, climate change, or racial equality.
The fact that the King and his heir have already said things about all these issues will dramatically undermine their ability to remain neutral on any issues raised in the future, something that, however serious the matter, is expected of the Sovereign.
The fact is that your perceived views on any of these issues, even if based on previous comments, will continue to affect public opinion and therefore policy. If William’s bleak view of the BBC leads more Britons to think that public funding should be withdrawn in the coming years, how will politicians respond to that pressure?
The monarchy did not have to deal with these issues for some time because, while Elizabeth was on the throne, the public view of the family and its role was largely stable.
That era is really over. Now, Charles and William must navigate less certain times, balancing old and new views of who they are against the pressure of being an apolitical head of state. And, unlike Elizabeth, they will do so knowing that the popularity they rely on will be less assured than at any point in the longest-running monarch’s 70-year reign.
Source: CNN Brasil