The glowing news just keeps on coming from the land of Madame George and Roses. In the space of just a couple of months, we’ve had not one but two royal weddings, complete with hats, shoes and scene stealing children. And while gushing pundits are still arguing over who wore what best, there’s another ray of sunshine on the way to brighten up our monochrome existences: A new royal Baby!
Even as Duchess Kate is doing more than her fair share producing adorable heirs and spares, her equally telegenic sister-in-law, Meghan, is about to add to the bounty with a child of her own. One can only imagine that any lingering memories of the House of Windsor’s Annus Horribilis have been firmly extinguished by now. Indeed, it seems these days that the royal family’s good fortune appears to be boundless.
If only the same could be said for the fortunes of the country that this family nominally heads up.
Get the think newsletter.
One might think that a country facing an existential crisis — otherwise known as a potentially no-deal Brexit, in which the U.K. would leave the European Union with no transition plan for the movement of goods or people, any gaps in U.K. law and no plan to deal with the sensitive border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland — would have little interest in the comings and goings of a bunch of over-privileged toffs. But it seems that every bit of negative political and economic bad news coming out of Britain is offset by increasingly enthusiastic coverage of all things royal.
I’m Irish and living in the United States but, thanks to my Facebook feed alone, I sometimes feel I am more intimately acquainted with the goings on of Kate and Wills, et al., than with members of my own family. And, though it’s understandable that the average Brit might choose to wallow in the delightful lives of the perfectly-coiffed and permanently-beaming young royals rather than focus too much on their own comparatively drab ones, one can’t help feeling that much of the royal fervor is deliberately stoked by vested conservative interests to distract the public from the very real problems they face and to promote a sense of false security and stability.
If one were to tune out of royal news for long enough, it’s not hard to see that Britain is in a bit of a pickle: Even before Brexit entered the equation, it has been facing severe economic challenges. According to the Institute for Public Policy Research, the U.K. is the fifth most unequal country in Europe, and more than a fifth of the population living on incomes below the poverty line. Food bank reliance is on the rise and nearly one in three children are living in poverty.
Escalating poverty levels have not quelled the enthusiasm of successive governments for increasing austerity measures and cutting benefits. The National Health Service has endured so many budget cuts, doctors are issuing warnings that it is a “ticking time bomb.” A recent front-page New York Times story highlighted just how devastating the welfare cuts have been for many of the nation’s children. But even as Theresa May’s government continues to justify eight years of austerity measures as necessary and unavoidable, U.K. tax payers are called upon repeatedly to fork out millions for the upkeep of their beloved Royal Family.
Prince William’s marriage to Kate Middleton cost an estimated $43 million, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding cost upwards of $45 million. In both instances, the U.K. taxpayers picked up the bulk of the tab — the security costs. The wedding of Princess Eugenie — a minor royal — came at the estimated bargain price of $3.5 million but, again, taxpayers will pay for most of it.
And, according to research compiled by Republic, a group that advocates for the abolition of the monarchy, the British queen is the most expensive nonpolitical head of state in Europe, costing about $468 million a year to maintain.
One might think that, considering how much taxpayer money is lavished on this one family compared to the stringent austerity measures faced by the average U.K. family, there might be some signs of waning enthusiasm for all things royal by now. But the wedding of Meghan and Harry was watched by 18 million viewers in the U.K. alone and that of Wills and Kate a staggering 28.4 million. And although there have been some rumblings about the cost (a poll commissioned by Republic found that 57% of Brits believe the royal family should pay for their own weddings, including the police costs), there have been no major protests — let alone any stirrings of rebellion about the unequal distribution of favors.
One can’t blame the Brits for wanting to tune out of the endless global bad news cycle. But one can question why the conservative government, cheered on by right wing press, would be so willing to lavish support on a symbol of privilege even as they insist on stringent austerity for everyone else.
The answer lies in the symbol: Whatever one thinks of the monarchy, the queen has been around for as long (or longer) than most of us can remember and, if she symbolizes anything, it’s strength and stability. After some hiccups along the way, the current crop of royals are doing a great job of marrying well and living well and projecting queen style values. Meanwhile, the conservative prime minister, Theresa May, who ran on a “strong and stable” platform, is now trying to convince the public that they should not be concerned about hushed-up plans to stockpile food and medicine as a no-deal Brexit looms.
In her shoes, wouldn’t you rather the loyal subjects were knitting booties for the latest new royal baby, than focusing on the growing lines of less privileged children at food banks?