Their Royal Highnesses, Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge have just finished a tour of the Caribbean, which some have labelled ‘disastrous’ and have questioned the need for the Royal Family to engage in tours abroad. Felix Hawes delves into public opinion on the Royals and answers the all important question – should we still have them?
This view is likely based on the reactionary of Twitter in a classic example of the ant-mill mess that the echo chambering platform establishes. The Ant-Mill theory is based on ants that follow the scent of the path – which on occasion can lead to a death spiral if the paths cross. This occurs on Twitter. Someone says something, someone shares it, regular newspapers and media then broadcast it and then it goes ‘viral’ and enters public discourse, although still the minority.
A wealthy rich privileged couple going on tour to a country their ancestors enslaved was something the Twitteratti were determined to find evidence that it was a disaster
Combine the Ant Mill theory with another phenomena – the desire for a ‘gottcha moment’ – and you get the impression of the Royal Family being hated.
It is no secret that Twitter is predominantly left leaning. Naturally, #Abolishthemonarchy is a regular occurrence, a stark contrast to the real world where only 1 in 5 people advocate that position.
With this mindset, and a desire to find something to advocate their position, a wealthy rich privileged couple going on tour to a country their ancestors enslaved was something the Twitteratti were determined to find evidence that it was a disaster.
Before the tour even began, Prince William fell victim to a post-truth story where he was described as stating that conflict in Africa and the Middle East is expected. He did not say this. The Observer had to issue a correction. What he had said was “for our generation, war is alien to Europe”. But nonetheless this did the rounds because of Twitter. The ant-mill spreading its post-truth thesis.
This mistruth happened on the tour. There were protests. The Cambridges did have to change their location to avoid them. It was the case that the Prime Minister of Jamaica said to Prince William’s face that he would rather his grandmother was not their head of state.
But was it a ‘disaster?’, no.
Life-long Republican Alastair Campbell also held this view.
Twitter had already decided the destiny of the tour
The protests were small. Crowds gathered, the Prime Minister of Belize was happy to welcome the royal couple, Prince William’s speeches were well received, and there was great celebration of the role of Jamaica for their help in the Second World War.
Of course, though for twitter had already decided the destiny of the tour. A few angry protestors against a conservation agency were circulated as demands for reparations (such demands were put to the couple however), and even a picture of crowds celebrating the royal couple after they attended a football match was met with criticism. The picture was not a good image, with the couple greeting people through a fence (although Raheem Stirling had been pictured at the exact same spot), but the image has only displeased the usual Twitter suspects. The crowds in Trench Town, who came up to the football stadium must have been delighted that the royal couple made a short detour to greet them. The level of excitement was so strong there were concerns that the crowds were going to get out of control, pressing the couple on either side, met with wild cheers.
But despite the overly negative coverage of a tour that went well, there is of course bigger questions to ask regarding the future role of the monarchy. Her Majesty the Queen is of course not only the Queen of the United Kingdom but fifteen other realms including Jamaica, The Bahamas and Belize that the Cambridges toured. Only last year, Barbados removed the Queen as its head of state. The royal family are fully aware of the changing times, with Prince William saying that he is there to serve and that they will respect the people’s decisions.
The countries have a complicated relationship with the United Kingdom, of whom led an empire that committed tremendously horrific crimes. The monarchy however was chosen to be carried on by the former colonies, and they have always had the right to abolish it since independence. Saint Kitts and the Grenadines voted to reject abolition of the monarchy in 2009; Barbados did not have a referendum, because the politicians were worried the voters would not reach ‘the correct answer’; and academics have thought Jamaica would turn a republic for the last fifty years, which still in 2011, 6 in 10 Jamaicans believed in not only keeping the monarch but believed that life was better under British rule.
Middle class twitter warriors may think the monarchy is outdated, but it remains a cherished institution
Times are changing, but the monarchy is not seen as a colonising institution by all. Indeed, Rory Stewart noted in a podcast that the royal family is very well received in the Middle East, and countries that were not in the British Empire have joined the royal-family-led Commonwealth such as Rwanda.
The royal family know how to adapt, it is how they have survived for so long. Its bigger risk is not opposition, but apathy of the young in their activities. Additionally, there will be rocky places ahead as the more liberal young both in the Caribbean and to a lesser extent in the UK become the majority and the monarchy lose their popular current incumbent. But to sum up, middle class twitter warriors may think the monarchy is outdated, but it remains a cherished institution not just in the UK (where it rocks in £1776 million per annum into the British economy at the cost of £69.4 million per annum) but across the commonwealth.
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