11.03.21 Publication:

If you feel strongly about the interview given by Britain’s Prince Harry and his American wife
Meghan Markle to Oprah Winfrey on CBS, then just remember what Leo Tolstoy wrote in his
great novel Anna Karenina: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in
its own way.” These members of a famously unhappy royal family simply chose to share
their unhappiness on global television. But if you wonder how this might affect the British
monarchy, then refer to the Netflix series, “The Crown”, whose theme essentially is that the
monarchy and the royal family are two separate issues.

For a country that boasts often about its long history of democracy, the United
Kingdom is strangely addicted to some very undemocratic institutions: a completely
unelected upper chamber of Parliament, the House of Lords, which with more than 800
members is the second largest legislative assembly in the world, after China’s National
People’s Congress; and, of course, its head of state, Queen Elizabeth the Second. Stranger
still is the fact that the monarch’s main obligation is to be as silent as possible, as
uncontroversial as possible, on all matters of politics.

Unlike Italy’s President of the Republic, the Queen is unable to have any say at all,
even privately, about how British governments are formed, how long they stay in office, and
what they do. This means that the only real purpose of the monarchy is survival, and
through survival the monarchy provides a form of historical continuity. The impotence of
the monarchy leaves huge scope for the government and the House of Commons to act in
whatever ways they wish, constrained only by the law and the need to hold elections.
Justifiably, the British system of government has been described as an elective dictatorship.

With survival and continuity as the basic purpose of the monarchy, the officials that
run the Royal Household have caution and conservatism running like blood through their
veins. Having been monarch for nearly seven decades, the Queen can of course be highly
influential in how the Royal Household operates. But at the age of 94 she is unlikely to
exercise this influence very vigorously. It is the officials who run the show.

So let us return to the hot topic of the week: complaints and claims made on
American television by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, who are also known as the Duke
and Duchess of Sussex. Prince Harry is only sixth in the line of succession to Queen
Elizabeth. Which invites the question: beyond mere curiosity about the life of two
celebrities and the family of which they form part, why should complaints by the sixth in line
of succession matter at all?

The answer is that what Harry and Meghan say would matter only if their criticisms
brought the survival of the monarchy into doubt. But they don’t. The thrust of their
complaints is, really, that the Royal Household is rigid and conservative, and that the Royal
Family has been unsupportive as well as displaying some racial prejudice. Yet the
conservatism of the Royal Household is part of its essence, and the existence of racial
prejudice in a family that is highly remote from normal modern life is regrettable but not at
all surprising.

We have seen this all before. Britain’s Royal Family is socially remote while also
being even more dysfunctional than normal British families. Of the Queen’s four children,                              three have seen their marriages end in divorce, as did that of her own sister, Princess
Margaret. There is no constitutional requirement that the Royal Family should be
harmonious or happy.

The sole question standing before the monarchy is now, as it always has been, that
of ensuring a smooth succession to the next generation to wear the crown. When the heir,
Prince Charles, had his acrimonious separation and divorce from Princess Diana in 1992-96,
it was reasonable to question whether the British public might dislike the idea of him as
King. But no government would have proposed holding a referendum on the succession,
had Queen Elizabeth died in that decade, so the monarchy would still have survived. Now,
Prince Charles is perfectly popular, as is the next in line, Harry’s elder brother Prince

Only if Harry and Meghan’s accusations were to strike at the heart of the legitimacy
of Prince Charles or Prince William would this sad affair hold any political significance. Yet
they do not. What we are left with is simply a form of escapism: public attention to the
troubles of celebrities as a diversion from their own. In this sense, the British Royal Family is
merely a branch of the entertainment industry, for good or for ill.