On Friday Her Majesty the Queen gave a speech in honour of VE Day, the day when 75 years ago the War in Europe was declared at an end and the Nazis were declared defeated. The speech played on themes of bravery and sacrifice, and how the best way to honour those who’d given so much then was to ensure that the causes of their sacrifice were not repeated today. It was an inspiring speech and one that was praised throughout the nation and on that notorious hotbed of social media.
One thing that it did inspire though were some comments from various quarters worrying about the future of the monarchy once Her Majesty dies. Why? Because to these people her successors do not measure up to her.
For some, The Queen’s immediate successor, Prince Charles is far too opinionated and far too cooky to actually hold to the austere and severe image that the Queen has developed. They worry that he will get involved in politics and other affairs, that are traditionally a big no no for the constitutional monarchy. Largely because they feel that it would make him no better than a normal politician and that would further tarnish the image of the Crown. Their worries come despite the fact that Prince Charles has himself admitted that when he becomes King he won’t speak out as openly as he has done before and the fact that whatever he’s spoken out about has been proven correct.
Then there are those who feel that Prince Charles’ eldest son Prince William, Duke of Cambridge is a slouch, someone who wants all the perks of being a Prince but none of the responsibility. The one example that was frequently used during my conversations with these people was the fact that in 2016, the Duchess of Cambridge broke a 115 year old tradition by not presenting a shamrock to the Irish Guards, and instead allowed her husband the Duke of Cambridge (who is also the Guards colonel) to do the deed. Why did she do this? Because she wanted to spend some time with their children before venturing out on a months long tour of Asia. Understandable you might think, but not according to these people.
No, wanting to spend time with your children before embarking on a long tour, is apparently irresponsible and shallow. According to one tweeter (mentioned in the link above) wanting to spend time with your children is frivolous, and as a member of the Royal Family you must be prepared to make sacrifices. If you can’t then renounce your titles.
That sounds unduly harsh, doesn’t it? A Mother wants to spend a day with her children, and she’s being told she’s shallow and needs to quit if she can’t give up a day with her children. Nobody else would stand for such an attitude in their world of work, so why are we so happy to use that view for the Royals? Why are we willing to tell a future King that he cannot have any political views or cannot voice them out in the open, when any wanker with a computer can tweet it out in this day and age?
The answer: we’re still using the be seen, not heard mantra of old for the Royals and it’s time we abandoned it.
In the past, there were aspects of British society where we expected certain groups be they women, children, those with disabilities, to be seen and not heard. Whether this was because of prejudice or because people didn’t know how to handle them is up in the air, but that was the social mandate of the day. Thankfully, we’ve evolved from that time and are now open to hearing these groups talk and voice their complaints and views, hell we’re even encouraging of it. But, the monarchy remains the one area where we still apply this rigid sense of being seen but not heard. It’s fine for the Royals to come and cut ribbons and launch charities, but if they dare voice a political view or a social view, or even want to take time off for family time, they’re pilloried.
I believe this is because many British people are quite conservative in their outlook. Oh, they might talk about how change is good and being stuck in the past is bad, but their actions belie their words. Be they remainers or leavers, Labour voters or Conservatives, the British public is innately conservative. For one side that means remaining in the EU and preserving the neo-liberal consensus of empty platitudes, and for the other that means returning to a time when social hierarchy was respected and people didn’t speak about their feelings.
The fact that the Royals might dare break either of these views and actually want to get involved, is more than likely viewed as a threat by both sides. They see it as upending everything they know and have been taught. For the neo-liberal side, a monarch or a member of the Royal Family voicing their views on politics or on the environment is not right because that person isn’t elected and therefore can’t have a say. They cannot exercise their so called unearned power, because it is not supported by a meaningless vote.
Whilst the other side, be they leave or just more traditionalist, thinks that a member of the Royal Family like the Duchess of Cambridge wanting to take a day off to spend time with her children is irresponsible. They probably think that it’s a sign that she’s not cut out for this life because she actually wants to be a Mother. She’s not willing to sacrifice her time with her children to go hand a shamrock to an army regiment, she’s slacking etc. That goes against everything this side has been told about the world as embodied by the Queen. Sacrifice everything for the greater good, ask for nothing, never complain, just keep on and carry on.
What neither side has quite realised is that times have changed. The neo-liberal consensus is dead, people don’t trust politicians or the press, but they do trust the monarchy. Indeed, it does seem as though the public does trust the monarchy far more than they trust any politician or media person, so, if we want to heal the nation and bring it together, perhaps the time has come for the Royal Family to be given more bandwidth.
Perhaps the time has come for them to shake off their shackles and truly embrace their roles as unifiers. Be it through talking about causes close to their heart such as mental health and veterans affairs, or in speaking out when they think government has gone too far in one direction and needs to be pulled back. Because they are not involved in the nonsense of elections they can be a force for good, and speak from a non party stance that would resonate more with the public.
Furthermore, if an individual Royal wishes to spend time with their children, they should be allowed to. They are people just like you and me, dear reader, and they should be able to kiss their child a goodnight and read to them. We know that children do better when their parents are involved, so, why deny the future royals that chance? We don’t live in some sort of fucked up 50s redux anymore. It’s time to grow.
In summary, it is time for Britain to remove the be seen, not heard attitude that it has adopted to the Royals. They are here to stay for some time, and we must accept as a society that they are people with views and desires of their own. They do incredibly good work, we must as a society give them the space to show what they’re capable of and we must ensure that we listen when they speak. They care about this country in a manner nobody else can, for they are the embodiment of it. It is time we ensured that the monarchy is heard, for it can only be for the good.