Labour has stumbled into the royal culture war

9 March 2021

5:45 PM

9 March 2021

5:45 PM

Given Starmer’s aim of getting red wall voters back on side, Labour should not have touched the Harry and Meghan debate with a bargepole. It is a massively loaded cultural issue that can only hurt them. And yet it seems they couldn’t help themselves. Kate Green, the shadow education secretary, has said in a television interview that Meghan’s claims of racism should be ‘fully investigated’ by the Palace. This is exactly the kind of move that leaves only confustion when trying to work out about what Starmer is trying to accomplish.

I feel like I’m the only person who lives in Great Britain who doesn’t really care that much either way about the whole Harry and Meghan ordeal. I am nominally a royalist in that I think the current system — at least with the head of state we have at the moment — is better than a presidential one. Yet Harry is so far down the line of succession, I can’t get too upset about what he does and does not do in constitutional terms. If this was William, then I’d get the hype; as it’s his younger brother and William has several children, I just don’t care very much.

And I get the idea that things like the Oprah interview pose an existential threat to the monarchy as a whole, which should make me care more than I do. Except, British royalty has been here before and survived much worse. William and his massive popularity bodes well for the current basic constitutional arrangements, whatever his sibling decides to do in the interim.

But again, I know I’m mostly alone in not caring all that much about Harry and Meghan one way or another. It clearly matters to a lot of people, if both traditional and social media are anything to go by. For a lot of the British right, what Harry and Meghan have done is an abomination that will echo through the ages; to the left, they are heroes fighting racist and xenophobic oppression. Again, given Starmer’s supposed aim of winning back red wall voters, having a member of his shadow cabinet tell the Queen what do on television doesn’t make a massive amount of sense. It is even more bizarre when put in context.

Labour voted for Boris’s Brexit deal even though it cut off their ability to oppose the Tories on a million different things, all for the sake of being on the right side of the culture war to win back the red wall. To the same effect, they now talk softly about patriotism and put the flag in the backdrop of every Starmer set piece. Fine, so far, I get it. But then they go and wade in on the wrong side of the Harry and Meghan question, at least from the perspective of the voters they are supposedly targeting with all this other stuff, by telling the Queen how to run her household?

It’s like Labour really don’t get it at all — if you’re going to avoid the culture war, then why get involved in a portion of it that is highly toxic and prone to change? Harry has courted a lot of controversy in his life and may well do so again in the near future. Meghan has had her share of public difficulties as well. In other words, this couple that is currently the love of the Western left could easily do something soon that alienates this very same group of people who profess to love them at the moment. This is not a sturdy ship for a wobbling Labour leadership to hop aboard, in other words.

I have no idea who is right and who is wrong in this whole saga. I am perfectly willing to believe that Meghan faced some difficulties within the royal family, even some of it due to her race. Maybe in the abstract there does need to be some audit of how the Palace deals with issues of this nature. However, the politics of Labour wading into this mess, particularly at a moment when Starmer is facing a tricky period of his leadership, demonstrates how strategically far Labour are still from even the politics of the Ed Miliband era.

If Labour is serious about winning back people with conservative social values then they should understand that telling the Queen she needs to launch an official investigation into her own family’s behaviour on racial issues certainly isn’t going to make these voters like them again. Beyond anything else, it makes people worry about what a Labour government would and wouldn’t do in terms of constitutional affairs.

Green’s call for a Palace investigation into Meghan’s claims is a political move that has the potential to alienate former Labour voters further while offering the party no opportunity to win anyone over — it is a lose-lose situation. They need to stop doing this sort of thing if they want to stop the slide downwards.

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