Tess Mize is a freelance writer, Navy wife, and new mom. Aside from being an avid royal watcher and Anglophile, she loves literature, theatre, yoga, and a good glass of wine. She was raised in the Southeast but currently lives in California with her husband, daughter, and dog.
Ah, politics. The great unifier. Ha! In my experience, political discussion is a surefire way to raise the blood pressure of everyone in a room. It can be a fraught topic, and certainly this year there is an abundance of tension related to politics. But it’s an unavoidable part of life, especially if you are of voting age. I found myself wondering about the rules governing royal behavior with regards to politics, and whether they have similar struggles as we do in discussing politics gracefully. Sounds diverting, right? Let’s dive in!
Originally, royalty held all of the political power in their countries, but true monarchial governments are rare nowadays. Most monarchies that still exist are constitutional monarchies, with royals exercising very little, if any, political power. In the case of the British monarchy, royals typically hold no official political opinions to maintain neutrality. Of course, the question of whether the monarchy should still exist at all is a very political topic in Britain (and, indeed, in other countries with a monarchy), and I should think the position of the Royal Family on that issue is fairly obvious. But other than that, since the adoption of the constitutional monarchy, the current monarch holds private counsel with the prime minister of the day, acting as an impartial advisor, and largely stays out of politics altogether otherwise. Royals don’t run for public office, nor do senior members of the family vote. I haven’t been able to find any rule specifically denying them suffrage, but I believe it is simply the established practice of the Royal Family to abstain from voting in the effort to remain neutral.
Occasionally, though, high-ranking members of the British Royal Family have voiced their opinions with regards to their personal passion projects and other issues with major ramifications. For example, in recent memory, Prince Charles has long been vocal on environmental concerns, and Prince William spoke out in 2014 against the illegal wildlife trade. Two of the biggest political events in the UK of the past couple of years have been the Scottish referendum of independence and the vote for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union (nicknamed “Brexit”). With regards to the former, while Queen Elizabeth didn’t outright voice an opinion one way or the other, she made a point of being especially present in Scotland during the run-up to the referendum, and was heard to say that she hoped people would “think very carefully about the future” when they went to vote. That little sound bite still nimbly walked the line of neutrality, but the Queen’s interest in keeping the United Kingdom, well, united, is fairly obvious. During the lead-up to the Brexit vote, Prince Harry was observed asking a guest at a street party how he planned to vote, although he declined to share his own opinion.
The political power of the monarchy is limited in its direct effect on policy making (remember, the Queen acts in a solely advisory capacity), but they do have great diplomatic power. For example, in the wake of Brexit, it is speculated that the royals could play an important role in maintaining ties with Europe to strengthen diplomatic relations and smooth the path towards reestablishing trade and economic agreements. They are one of the world’s most recognized brands, and the source of a great deal of revenue for the U.K. They are representative of Great Britain, and take their role as representing all British people very seriously, hence the importance of staying neutral. To show preference for one party over another would indirectly show preference for one segment of the British population over another. It’s not hard to imagine the uproar that would cause.
But apart from these rare ventures into the political arena, modern royals by and large keep mum. I’m sure each of them has his or her own personal political opinions and, when amongst family or in other informal situations, I imagine a fair amount of stress comes with related discussions. This is one instance in which a royal family may be more similar to all of the rest of us than we’d expect. Even royals may tiptoe around in-laws with regards to politics in an effort to avoid conflict; even royals probably have an outspoken grandfather who makes his position on every topic known loud and clear. Alas, we can only hazard a guess as to how various royals may navigate the veritable land mine field that rolls out when politics come up, at least in private.
I wish you all a happy and peaceful political season—and no matter where you live, if you have the ability to vote, please do! I imagine that not being able to voice their opinion in public or through the ballot box would be frustrating to the well-educated and undoubtably opinionated royals. So I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Kate would encourage each and every one of us to exercise our right to do so. And if Kate wants me to vote, who am I to abstain?
Until next time!
[Small disclaimer: as an American, I did have to rely solely on my research for this topic and claim no particular expertise in the ins and outs of British politics. If I’ve missed something substantial, I welcome constructive corrections. This post is not meant to start any partisan discussions—and I will not be engaging commenters in threads of that nature. Thanks in advance!]