The happy marriage between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will have formidable and long-lasting consequences.
Australians took the occasion to fire a warning shot over the heads of those tired politicians still plotting, twenty years after the last failed attempt, to impose some unknown republic on an unwilling nation. This was seen in the punishment Australians administered to Channel Ten for snubbing the wedding: a rating of 3.4 per cent.
Nor should the politicians take any comfort from the polls. Newspoll reports 51 per cent are in favour of ‘a republic’, but then reveals half of these are only ‘partly in favour’. How useful would it be to be told in an election that 20 per cent of the people were partly in favour of voting, say, for the ALP?
Until about two years ago, the Essential Report found that republican support was down in the thirties, which is still about right. But then they changed the question to imply, not so subtly, that unless we’re a republic we can’t have an Australian as head of state. Even Malcolm Turnbull concedes this is not so. But this change pushed recorded ‘support’ up into the forties.
These polls have to be taken with a grain of salt.
As to the marriage, its effect will flow from the international prestige of our Royal Family. This is based on the historical and constitutional importance of the Crown; namely, that the Royal Family is uniquely self-funded and not dependent on any taxpayer but also on what they have long seen as their mission, service to their people. What they do is neither for money nor for political power.
Their mission to serve could not have been expressed more starkly than in the Queen Mother’s reaction when it was proposed that during the terrible bombing of London by the Luftwaffe, the two young princesses be moved to Canada: ‘The children won’t go without me. I won’t leave without the King. And the King will never leave’. Like their parents and grandparents, the younger generation carry on that same sense of service, with Harry and William serving in the armed forces and, with their father, being heavily involved in his various very successful charities.
What makes this marriage unusual and attracts strong American attention is not only the fact that Meghan is a successful Hollywood actress of mixed blood, but also that Prince Harry was already highly respected in the US.
As long ago as 2007, in a piece headlined ‘US upper class more stuck up than Britain’s royalty’, Washington Post columnist Mary Cocco recounted an ‘uplifting’ royal story, that Prince Harry was ‘marching off to war’.
It took no nostalgia for the Crown, she wrote, to hear the honour in Prince Harry’s vow and then to wince at the contrast with the American force, from which the sons of the American well-heeled and the well-known were largely absent.
‘Like the United States, Britain has a volunteer military,’ she wrote. ‘Unlike the United States, Britain has some vestige of an elite that believes in the notion of noblesse oblige.’
On this point, Australian republicans invariably brush aside interest in the younger royals as no more than the usual fascination with celebrities. Not so – Australians are no fools. They see in William and Harry a higher sense of service than is normally found with celebrities or indeed most politicians, something akin to the great volunteer tradition which is so Australian.
One subtle consequence of this marriage could be to remind the Americans when, as the superpower influencing constitutional change in another country, they should not too readily dismiss constitutional monarchy, as they did in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the meantime, the marriage has already had a direct effect on the American nation where the unexpected election of Donald Trump has led to stark divisions fought daily in a mainly hostile media. Some say there has been nothing like this since the Civil War.
But then the nation came together, Republicans and Democrats, mainstream and conservative media, to celebrate this happy occasion, the marriage perceived popularly as that between the Warrior Prince and the American Princess. This respect, this interest, will not stop there. This marriage is now unquestionably an influential Anglo-American and Commonwealth institution.
One impact of this will be on the special relationship between the US and the UK, which had such an initial resurgence when President Trump disowned President Obama’s threat that if Britons dared vote for Brexit, a US-UK free trade deal would be at ‘the end of the queue’.
But since then, rather than carefully tending the Special Relationship, Prime Minister Theresa May seems to have gone out of her way to reprimand the President for fulfilling policies for which he obtained a mandate.
But just by being seen, by making news without division, by the access they will easily command and, especially, by their genuine involvement in their many good works, Harry and Meghan will be a living reminder of the Special Relationship. This is, after all, fundamentally a relationship between Churchill’s ‘English-speaking peoples’, whatever the politicians are up to.
The influence of good works should never be downplayed. Just consider the Invictus Games and how Harry has raised the standing and self-esteem of those who have been wounded in the service of their nation. Americans have a very high regard for those who are serving and have served, and his initiative draws and will continue to draw their very strong approval.
There will be a similar impact also on the relationship beyond America to the Anglophone world, the Commonwealth and beyond. How fortunate for Australians that theirs will be among the first countries they will visit as a married couple. This will be an occasion to recall not only what the Royal Family does for Australia but also what they could do for the nation.
The marriage of the Warrior Prince and the American Princess brings a new dimension to our ancient monarchy, a continuing force for good in the world.
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