For as long as I can remember, which is as far back as Charles and Diana in 1981, royal weddings have been used by the UK media and politicians alike, to whip up patriotism and deflect public attention from the dire straits the country finds itself in. In 1981, we were at the beginning of Margaret Thatcher’s trashing of UK industry in the north of England, Scotland and Wales, inflation was high and so was unemployment.
But hey, what the hell, the Prince of Wales is getting married, let’s set aside all of our worries and marvel at the fairy-tale like story of a royal wedding, sort of thing. I wasn’t in the least bit interested in the wedding, but I was in a minority there, and the media was full of it. It was almost impossible to avoid the story without leaving the country.
Millions watched the ceremony live in St Paul’s Cathedral on television, although I wasn’t one of them. Diana’s wedding dress became the main story in the media, with seemingly endless newspaper and television comment on the matter. It was the only news story in town.
On Monday it was announced that Prince Harry will marry Meghan Markle, an American mixed raced actress. Harry is only fifth in line to the British monarchy so we are not going to be given a public holiday, unlike when his elder brother William married Kate Middleton in 2011, but this hasn’t got in the way of an eruption of media stories about the wedding. There is plenty of bad news to bury at the moment.
Every conceivable angle to the story has been reported. On Monday evening, after the wedding was announced, the Evening Standard had 10 pages devoted to stories about the couple, everything from Harry’s army career, how they met and a look through the bride to be’s wardrobe of outfits and tastes in home furnishings. Everything you could possibly want to know about the event and its surrounding trivia. Yawn!
Much comment has been made of Markle being mixed race, I don’t think anyone from such a racial background has become a royal before, saying it shows how attitudes have changed in modern Britain on such affairs. I do think though it is unlikely that the first or second in line to the throne would have been allowed to marry anyone other than a Caucasian. Things haven’t changed that much.
The media has been quick to claim that the wedding, expected in May next year, will bring tourists flooding into the country, with all their spending in support of the British economy that it will bring. But the truth is, that royal weddings tend to lead to less tourists coming to London in comparable times of the year, as foreign tourists stay away from the weekend in question. The same was true of the London 2012 Olympics when tourism in London fell.
This does demonstrate the sensitivity of the establishment and media though, to charges of wasting public money, especially when austerity is being forced onto the country for an eighth year now. It has been reported that the couple will pay for their wedding themselves, but I doubt this would be the full costs, things like policing and so forth. Not to mention that Harry’s money is from the civil list anyway, paid to the royals by us taxpayers.
I think the number of British people interested in the royals generally has probably fallen over my lifetime. I remember at William and Kate’s wedding in 2011, around where I live in London, there was hardly any bunting or union flags being displayed in the area. A big contrast to Charles and Diana’s wedding in 1981, which was very visible with street parties and much flag waving. The population of London has changed a lot since 1981 though, with many more Londoners having been born outside of the UK, but even amongst the UK born, I sense a growing ambivalence to the monarchy.
So, is there hope for lifelong republicans like me, that we will see the end of all this nonsense in the near future? I have to say, I doubt it. There may be a window of opportunity when the current queen passes on, as I think the British people think on the whole she has done a good job, but for the rest of the royals, I suspect that is not the case.
But generally the British seem to think a constitutional monarchy is the lesser evil of an elected presidency, another politician, almost certainly. I could go along with a much reduced civil list and more public use of the royal land and property portfolio. And make their weddings private affairs, but a republic, is probably not likely anytime soon unfortunately.