Image courtesy of Bruce Detorres
A record 41% of young adults in the United Kingdom now believe the monarchy should be replaced with an elected head of state, according to a recent YouGov poll released last week. This major shift in opinion comes in the wake of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s interview with Oprah Winfrey and increased scrutiny of the British media’s coverage of the former royal couple.
In their March 2021 interview, Markle and Harry brought to light the difference between how the media covers them and other members of the royal family, and how racism actively plays a role in that coverage.
The couple also discussed the existence of an “invisible contract” between the British tabloids and the monarchy. As described by the BBC, the “invisible contract” is a system in which “orchestrated public exposure is offered … in return for privacy behind palace gates.” For example, the tabloids agreed to leave Prince William and Prince Harry alone when they were in school in exchange for access to certain staged events, such as Prince William’s 18th birthday. Because of the mutual agreements between the two parties, the contract is described as “historically beneficial” to both the press and monarchy.
Despite this mutually beneficial agreement, Markle believes she was left unshielded from negative coverage due to discrimination she faced both inside and outside the family. These revelations about the royal family, paired with the palace’s alleged indifference to seeing Markle consistently targeted by the British press, caused many viewers to take to social media to discuss the history of the British monarchy and its roots in racism, colonialism, and imperialism.
Racism is the foundation of the royal family's accumulation strategy, not an aberration. Racism is why they sit on their millions in wealth, gold & jewels looted from Black & brown peoples today.#RacialFeudalism#AbolishTheMonarchy https://t.co/Qpy724TFah
— Lisa Tilley (@Tilley101) March 8, 2021
Markle said that she had experienced discrimination inside the palace when there were concerns about “how dark” their son Archie’s skin would be, and she added that the discrimination she experienced within the family translated into her unjust tabloid coverage outside of it.
On social media, images of side-by-side headlines highlighting the double standard between Markle and Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, went viral. An article about something as simple as the royal wedding bouquet was headlined as “Why you can always say it with flowers” when Kate Middleton married Prince William, but for Markle, it was, “Royal wedding: How Meghan Markle’s flowers may have put Princess Charlotte’s life at risk.”
The damaging coverage of Markle persisted even after the interview. One headline from The Daily Mail that was published in the days following the interview read, “PIERS MORGAN: Meghan and Harry’s nauseating two-hour Oprah whine-athon was a disgraceful diatribe of cynical race-baiting propaganda designed to damage the Queen as her husband lies in hospital – and destroy the Monarchy.”
Members of British parliament also see the uneven coverage as the standard rule for Markle, rather than the exception. Seventy-two members of Parliament even condemned the “outdated, colonial undertones” in the general media coverage of Markle in October of 2019.
In the months following the interview, there has been discussion about whether or not monarchy can survive as a viable institution as public opinion continues to shift. After the interview aired, #AbolishTheMonarchy began trending on Twitter, and several major newspapers published opinion pieces contemplating the future of the royal family.
According to the YouGov poll, at least 41% of young adults from the ages of 18 to 24 would prefer an elected head of state, while 31% prefer the monarchy. This is a major shift from the results of the same poll conducted in 2019, where 26% of young adults preferred an elected head of state while 46% preferred the monarchy.
Although this shift in opinion comes after Markle and Prince Harry’s interview, the poll also follows other scandals that have come out in the last few years, such as sexual misconduct allegations against Prince Andrew and his ties to convicted sex-offender Jeffery Epstein.
The public opinion may also be influenced by the royal family’s decreasing influence in British politics paired with the growing cost of supporting the monarchy for British tax-payers. In 2020 alone, the royal family cost tax-payers £69.4 million pounds, a £22 million increase from 2018. This sharp increase is mainly due to recent renovations at Buckingham Palace.
During the interview, Markle also mentioned that she was under the impression she would be protected from the press like other members of the royal family are. Even in the most damaging of scandals, the crown has historically made moves to shield itself.
In the case of Virginia Roberts Giuffre’s sexual assault allegation against Prince Andrew, the crown handled the scandal in defense of the family by providing Andrew a platform and opportunities to defend himself. When Prince Andrew later stepped away from royal duties — spreading rumors of misconduct — a palace spokesperson disputed reports that he was forced to leave, and clarified that he left on his own accord after discussions with the Queen and other high ranking members of the royal family.
For Markle, this kind of support did not exist. “[The crown] [was] willing to lie to protect other members of the family, but they weren’t willing to tell the truth to protect me and my husband”, she said.