Every time that a picture of the Duchess of Sussex arriving at the United Nations is beamed around the world, it gets harder to avoid thinking the words: ‘she’s running’. Rumours of Meghan Markle’s presidential ambitions have been growing over the past few years, and she has done little to assuage them. Meghan’s every public utterance and appearance is carefully stage-managed in order to give the impression she has Something Important To Say, and that she may, yet, be the all-encompassing saviour an anxious America needs.
But today, for once, she was not the star attraction. Instead, her husband-cum-cavaliere Prince Harry was thrust into the spotlight, with a high-profile address to the UN on Nelson Mandela day. For those of us who remain sceptical about Harry’s intelligence and public speaking credentials, it’s an event we have been eagerly anticipating for the past week. Would he crash and burn? Accidentally cause a diplomatic fracas? Forget his speech and insult his hosts? Or deliver a statesmanlike, powerful and righteous address that causes his detractors to eat their words?
In the event, Harry’s speech was much the same as his other recent offerings, combining a sense of self-righteous anger with a clunking reminder of his (and his family’s) right-on credentials.
Although his speech was supposedly about climate change – appropriately enough, given that his former home country has been sweltering in the hottest day on record – he managed to cover a range of topics, most of which seemed to have little to do with Mandela himself.
There was a tendentious association in his statement that a picture of his mother and the former president hangs on the wall, and that it was a source of continued inspiration to him, before Harry launched into his all-purpose denunciation that ‘this was a painful year in a painful decade.’
Over the 20 minutes or so that he spoke, it was hard to think of a liberal cause that Harry did not espouse with some vigour. Climate change, naturally; the Ukraine war; Roe vs Wade; ‘the few weaponising lies and disinformation and lies at the expense of the many’; Africa being mired in poverty – all were namechecked in his speech, to dutiful applause.
Yet for all his commendable sentiment, Harry has not noticeably improved as a public speaker. He has a tendency to bellow at moments of stress or excitement, of which there were many, and to look angry at others, as if he wants to pick a fight with anyone who disagrees with him. His wife, sitting in one of the front rows, looked approvingly at him. She applauded at all the right moments, probably knowing that it will be her, rather than the Duke, who will have been the focus of much attention.
In his peroration, Harry declared that: ‘These historic weather events are no longer historic. More and more, they are part of our daily lives – and this crisis will only grow worse unless our leaders lead. Unless the countries represented by the seats in this hallowed hall make the decisions – the daring, transformative decisions – that our world needs to save humanity.’
As usual, the sentences sound weaker written down than spoken, but it is hard not to feel a sense of the old tunes being played once again. Making the speech while clothed in the enduring righteousness of Mandela has given it an importance that, based on its contents, it once again doesn’t deserve.
But as for Meghan: she is (almost certainly) running. This high-profile reminder of her (and her husband’s) willingness to speak platitudes to power will do her no harm whatsoever when the Democratic party come to think about successors to Joe Biden.
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