Prince Andrew’s interview hasn’t been the PR masterclass that his people might have hoped for, and it seems unlikely that this story will go away.
I support constitutional monarchy, not just out of a romantic attachment to the past and because I dislike the sort of people who advocate a republic more than I dislike the royals – although that is a factor – but because there’s plenty of evidence it works.
But even I am losing faith in the House of Windsor.
Tourism is a red herring – people would still visit Windsor Castle if we had President Attenborough – but the main argument is that shared institutions matter, and matter now more than ever. Modern democracies suffer from falling faith in these institution institutions, so that growing numbers express little fondness for anything but the military, the NHS and the Queen. Yet 2019 has been a terrible year for the royals – a new Annus Horribilis – and I suspect their problems are going to get worse.
Firstly, there is the constitutional crisis; it’s not the Queen’s fault that the political class has been deadlocked since 2016, but the purpose of monarchy is to be a check on political instability or tyranny. It’s what I think of as ersatz tradition, because there’s something a bit make-believe about it, but it’s all fine as long as everyone pretends to believe that the monarch wields ultimate power. The recent crisis rather exposed the fact that the Queen actually has zero real authority.
Secondly, there is the Harry and Meghan problem; the Duke and Duchess of Sussex seem determined to explicitly embrace a highly-politicised worldview which, for a want of a better world, I suppose we’d call “Woke”.
I can see the logic, since that sort of progressivism is the majority worldview of the ruling class below a certain age, and just as the Windsor ancestors adopted the new faith of Protestantism, so now they’re embracing its successor religion. But we are sort of living through a new Reformation now, and this is a hugely divisive line to take; on top of this the sort of people who agree with Harry and Meghan’s politics are not naturally sympathetic to royalty.
Thirdly, the Andrew scandal is symptomatic of a wider problem with the royals, a sort of “elite overproduction” caused by too many family members who are too close to the Queen to be able to launch separate careers and lives.
There once was a time when minor royals could be sent off to various distant parts of the empire, and if not then they usually joined the army. The current Queen’s uncles were notoriously a difficult lot but during the war one was shipped off to run the Bahamas, another was given diplomatic duties and the third served on the staff of the RAF (and was killed). What, exactly, can Andrew or Harry do, that won’t lead them either into the temptation of the flesh or of politics, the two biggest pitfalls for Hanoverian men?