Since its broadcast on Monday, the Meghan and Harry interview with Oprah has dominated cultural, media and political discourse. Among Britain’s political class, support for either the Royal Family or Meghan and Harry has become increasingly tied to political affiliation. Many Conservative MPs have instinctively backed the Palace, whilst a number of Labour politicians have voiced their support for the couple. This has been echoed by polling of the public, which has shown that while 64% of Conservative voters said they sympathised with the Queen, just 8% sympathised with Harry and Meghan. In comparison, 15% of Labour voters sympathised with the Royal Family compared to 38% who sympathised with Harry and Meghan.
Despite this, the response of both Conservative and Labour leaderships has been very cautious. The Prime Minister has declined on numerous occasions to give his opinion on the fallout, other than restating his continued support for the Queen. Whilst some within the party may want to weaponise all this into an anti-woke war, the Government seem reluctant to take sides because they know how many voters, particularly young voters, feel about matters pertaining to race.
Keir Starmer did make a public reaction, but it was a very cautious response, saying that the matters raised in the interview “need to be taken very, very seriously” because they are “allegations in relation to race and mental health.” Classic Keir. He is likely doing the same calculation as Johnson, and is concerned about being sucked into a culture war which would alienate supporters of the Royal Family.
However, some within the ministerial and shadow ministerial ranks have not been so disciplined. Conservative peer and minister Zac Goldsmith found himself in hot water after claiming that Harry was “blowing up his family” in a tweet that added: “What Meghan wants, Meghan gets.” Meanwhile, shadow education secretary Kate Green said the couple’s claims were “really distressing, shocking” and called on the palace to investigate any allegations of racism.
The Megxit allegations are not only proving politically problematic domestically, but on the international stage as Britain seeks to project its post-Brexit global influence. President Joe Biden, through his press secretary, said it took ‘courage’ for Meghan to admit her torment. Hillary Clinton (remember her?) said it was ‘heartbreaking’ that Meghan was not ‘fully embraced’.
But more concerning will be the impact of the claims throughout the Commonwealth, where issues of race and ethnicity remain extremely delicate. Many Brexiteers had propagated the idea of a revived Commonwealth as an alternative to the European Union as a sphere of British influence, but already former High Commissioner for Barbados to Britain has suggested the interview confirmed his country was right to announce the Queen would no longer be its head of state. In Westminster there will undoubtedly be concerns that the interview could make for a domino effect in other Commonwealth nations.
So long as the crisis rages on unresolved amongst the Royal Family, it provides yet more eggshells for politicos to navigate as they seek to appeal to young and old voters, centre left and centre right, not to mention implications for Britain’s international standing. They will surely be hoping that the Queen, the one person who came out of the Oprah interview relatively unscathed (other than Oprah herself of course), can lead the crisis comms response to resolve the fractures within her own family, and in turn diffuse a landmine in Westminster.