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King Charles is too political for the United States

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The Queen, for her part, was widely considered the perfect envoy to America. She met 13 of the last 14 US presidents and understood “the personalities, the idiosyncrasies of the current government”, according to Robert Traynham, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University who has studied the Queen and US-UK relations. She took horse fanatic Ronald Reagan for a long ride during his visit to England, sent Dwight Eisenhower a recipe for ‘drop scones’ (Scottish pancakes) after he enjoyed them at Balmoral – and even attended a game baseball for the first time with lifelong baseball fan George HW Bush. Barack Obama said she was “really” one of his favorite people.

The Queen not only courted presidents, she bewitched the American public, despite the fact that Americans fought a war to free themselves from the tyranny of British rule two centuries before. She has had consistently high approval scores in polls – 72% of Democrats and 68% of Republicans said they had a somewhat or very favorable opinion of the monarch in a May 2022 YouGov poll. royal institution as a whole: Americans loved ‘all the panoply and pageantry’ that surrounded the Queen, viewing her family as the ‘Royal Kardashians’, according to Stryker McGuire, former Bloomberg and Newsweek editor who wrote on Britain’s post-Elizabethan identity.

A critical element of this appeal is the family’s “permanent celebrity” status. “Celebrities come and go, pop stars disappear; artists, TV stars, movie stars are fading,” says James Vaughn, a historian of Britain at the University of Chicago.

“But the royal family persists.”

As well as inhabiting the rarest layer of fame, the Queen appealed across the Atlantic because she could – and did – stand firmly above the political fray. Among Americans, there is a “sly admiration for the fact that British politics separates the head of state and the head of government,” says Vaughn. “In England the monarch lives in a palace but the prime minister lives in a townhouse on Downing Street. Our White House looks more like a palace than a townhouse and our President can act more like an imperious king than any prime minister ever could,” adds Elisa Tamarkin, author of Anglophilia: Deference, Devotion, and Antebellum America. “The monarchy in England is only for show.”

Indeed, the Queen took this role as head of state “very, very seriously,” says Vaughn. Oyster-like in refraining from controversial comments, the Queen looked like a “blank slate”, adds Mcguire. “The thing about blank celebrity slates is that the fan can write just about anything they want on that slate. […] They can identify with that person as they wish.

Elizabeth’s eldest son Charles, meanwhile, has spent decades in decidedly political territory, cultivating a résumé of progressive projects often centered on the climate. Aged 21, he gave his first major speech on the subject at a campaign conference in Cardiff, drawing attention to the threats of pollution, plastic and overpopulation. It was 1970, long before environmental concerns became mainstream political topics of discussion. (He later said that others at the time saw him as “completely drunk”.)

He has since progressed to bigger stages. In 2008 he addressed the European Parliament, telling MPs that “the doomsday clock of climate change is ticking” and called for “the greatest public, private and NGO partnership ever”. He spoke at COP21, COP26 and the 2021 G-20 meeting in Rome, imploring leaders to listen to the “desperate voices of young people”. At the 2020 World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, he launched the Sustainable Markets Initiative, an effort to incentivize businesses to adopt sustainable practices. The list continues.

Charles’ legacy is also reflected in the extensive network of charities he oversees. The biggest is The Prince’s Trust, which helps at-risk young people aged 11 to 30 gain education and career opportunities. Idris Elba was one such beneficiary. As a youngster growing up on an estate (public housing) in Hackney, London, he received a £1,500 grant to train as an actor with the National Youth Music Theatre.

This commitment to environmentalism and charity work is as impressive as it is politically incongruous: there is the loud and proud progressiveness of its public efforts. And then there is its history of extreme wealth as part of an institution steeped in traditionalism and a low-key culture of “never complain, never explain” – a phrase adopted by the Queen Mother.

Indeed, the prince’s political activity has not avoided scrutiny: in 2005, Rob Evans, a left-leaning Guardian reporter, submitted a freedom of information request to see the letters Charles had sent to government ministers in the previous period. two years. After a decade-long legal battle and government expenditure of £400,000 to block the circulation of letters, the cache of so-called ‘black spider’ memos has been released, exposing Charles’ lobbying on matters ranging from a better equipment for Iraq war troops to denounce the ‘illegal fishing of Patagonian toothfish’.

Despite this scrutiny, Charles’s recent invitations to major global political summits signal a growing acceptance of the monarch-activist approach. Yet that doesn’t say how well he will be received by Americans – a people who have deified the Queen specifically for her charming approach to diplomacy, who are more strongly divided than the British public on Charles’s issues like the climate and who demonstrated still low approval for the former prince (nearly half of Americans were said to have an unfavorable opinion of Charles in a February 2022 poll).

Much of that antipathy is a hangover from the much-publicized collapse of his marriage to Diana – who was much loved in the US – rather than the adversity of his politics, royal watchers say. But that animosity could grow if he continues to be so outspoken now that he’s king. “He would lose that shield of being a head of state above the fray,” Vaughn says, particularly because his mother “played it perfectly.”

It’s also possible that Charles could be used as a political weapon in America if “anti-environmental forces decide to attack him,” says Brian McKercher, author of Britain, America and the special relationship since 1941. He could be “a handy cudgel to hit a Democratic administration, or even a Republican administration, that wanted to do environmental things. I think it’s very possible.

Charles’ calls for environmental action might be heard differently in Britain and across the Atlantic. This is because the American public is relatively skeptical of climate change: while 51% of the British public believe the climate is changing and that human activity is mainly responsible for it, only 38% of Americans are agreement, according to a 2019 YouGov survey. Similarly, 15% of Americans think the climate is not changing or that it is changing but human activity is not responsible, compared to just 5% of Britons.

“The United States is one of a series of countries that have a pretty extreme polarization on this issue. Countries like Canada, the UK and Australia also have some polarization, but not as extreme,” says Matto Mildenberger, associate professor of political science at UC Santa Barbara. This is also highlighted on party agendas: half of Tory backbenchers are now part of the Conservative Network for the Environment, a group that supports ‘net zero, nature restoration and safety Resource”. In the United States, by contrast, fierce congressional polarization means Republicans generally oppose legislating to prevent climate change.

In this context, Charles is likely faced with a choice between his climate policy and the bipartisan popularity of the type his mother enjoyed in America. He tried to modernize the monarchy and make it influential and relevant to political concerns, Tamarkin says. “But the attachment to the monarchy – and whatever social and cultural role it plays – has depended on its historical irrelevance in these respects. Charles can help draw attention to important political issues, but this could come at the expense of attention and interest in the monarchy itself.

In the end, that might be a moot point. Despite decades of environmentalism in his shadow, Charles hinted that he would change course as king. In a 2018 documentary, he was asked if he would continue his militant ways. “I’m not that stupid,” he replied. “You cannot be the same as the sovereign if you are the Prince of Wales or the heir.”

When it comes to the powers of the British monarch, there is centuries-old precedent for the head of state to remain politically neutral. Although there was no law prohibiting the Sovereign from voting, the Queen stuck to convention and never filled in a ballot. The signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, followed by laws such as the Bill of Rights of 1689, spawned a constitutional monarchy limited by the democratic will of parliament. Although the Head of State still has to give Royal Assent before a bill becomes law, this is seen as an exercise in rubber stamping and has not been held back since Queen Anne swore it off. made in 1707.

King Charles therefore has limited real political power, and is unlikely to overstep the bounds. “I have no worries, no worries that […] King Charles III will rule as anything but a constitutional, democratic and legitimate monarch,” Vaughn said. However, Charles still retains lobbying power: the Head of State and the Prime Minister hold private meetings, called Audiences, on a weekly basis. As Vaughn sees it, “the question mark would be: Would he try to use his role in the unwritten constitution to have more influence on policy and thinking on 10 Downing Street than his mother probably did. ever been willing to try to do that?”

Naturally, Charles’ leadership of public work – rather than behind-the-scenes lobbying – will matter most in how he, and the monarchy as a whole, are perceived in Britain and around the world in the future. . In the United States – where “The Crown” was a must-see TV and tens of millions of people watched royal weddings – this septuagenarian activist could break the spell cast so carefully and diligently by his mother. For some, the nagging memory of his association with Diana will fade, replaced by a celebration of progressivism on such a visible stage. For others, the attraction of the royal family lies exclusively in its theater: the mirage of power, drama and opulence existing at a distance from politics. For these Americans, the fairy tale is – most likely – dead.