The royal family is definitely a ‘woke’ institution – and all the better for it

·4 min read

Is the British royal family now a woke institution? If that means it stands for progressive, compassionate and green ideas, then, yes – and the evidence is mounting up.

The Queen, at 95, is starting to sound like some millennial climate activist or a militant member of Gen Z. Just like Greta Thunberg, though quieter in her protestations, she seems to fear that her grandchildren and great-grandchildren face an uncertain future. The Queen was overheard at the opening of the Welsh Senedd in Cardiff complaing that, “it’s really irritating when they [world leaders] talk, but they don’t do”.

The Queen, like her family, is supposed to stick to consensual, mainstream opinions, and certainly ones that avoid party politics, but the consensus about the realities of the climate crisis is in fact just that – it is now mainstream. The deniers have been marginalised. Surely she speaks for the whole nation about “irritating” world leaders who talk but don’t do? Even if you’re a climate denier you should appreciate her point about hypocrisy: if you’re not actually convinced of the case for action on greenhouse gases, why pretend that you are?

Although not intended for publication, the Queen’s remarks should be no more controversial than if she’d confirmed to her friends in Cardiff that she thinks the world is round, or that getting the Covid vaccine is good for you (and she has made a point of publicising that she has taken the jab, nicely bossing the anti-vaxxers).

The “green” Queen has met quite quite a variety of world leaders in her time – Winston Churchill, Jawaharlal Nehru, Charles de Gaulle, Idi Amin, Nicola Ceausescu, Nelson Mandela, Silvio Berlusconi, Xi Jinping, Donald Trump – so she’s knows what they’re like, and can spot flannel in any language a mile away.

The Prince of Wales was once ridiculed for his environmentalism, but we can see he was ahead of his time. He says that he sympathises with motives and grievances of the Insulate Britain protesters (but not necessarily their methods) – but who isn’t in favour of double glazing (though perhaps not on one’s Grade I listed homes)? Prince William looks askance at billionaires flying into space, suggesting whether it might not be a better idea to fix up the planet we’ve already got. Seems unexceptionable to me.

The Queen and the whole institution has survived for as long as it has by moving with the times and embracing change. They stand at the ceremonial head of two multiracial, multicultural communities – the Commonwealth and the United Kingdom – and they support the values of tolerance and understanding that underpin them; unlike the politicians, they are not there to stoke up culture wars.

Yet now, because our politics is full of loud angry people who reject the consensual values they represent, they are finding themselves coming under more attack and violent criticism. Nigel Farage, never one to miss an opportunity for publicity, thinks that Prince Charles’ support for the climate protesters means the end of the monarchy. Well, OK, but it’s not as if the heir to the throne and Camilla are going to sit on the M25 just because they think roof insulation is a good idea (again with appropriate exemptions for historical buildings). Even Prince Philip, controversial as he could be, was a bit of an environmental pioneer. Diana was also an early “woke” personality, sneered at (at the time) for rightly shaking hands with patients at a HIV/AIDs unit and campaigning to remove landmines in places such as Mozambique where they were maiming children (when Tory ministers told her to stay out of “politics”).

The royal family did of course welcome Meghan Markle into “The Firm” when she married Prince Harry – and the biggest mistake made was to mishandle their relationship so badly that the couple felt they had to go into exile. But Harry and Meghan, too, still represent a modernised face of a progressive monarchy, one that admittedly irritates the snobs and the racists.

The House of Windsor today belies its feudal heritage and privilege. It is a house of toleration and respect, that stands for racial and social justice, equality, faith values, internationalism, the National Health Service and, yes, urgent action over the climate crisis. Not a bad manifesto when you think about it. Gawd bless ‘em.

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