Monday, January 17, 2005

Colonials and natives

Well, what a surprise. We now know that Prince Harry has all the tact of his grandfather and the intellect of his father. There's been quite a lot of media controversy about this - and rightly so. As a public figure, whether by choice or birth, he should know better than to go to a fancy dress party in such an insensitive costume.

Of course, the fact that he doesn't know better should tell the country something that republicans have known for a long time. The Royal Family are no different to any of the rest of us except by the accident of birth. To the real world, Prince Harry is not some fantastic embodiment of Britain. He is instead a foolish 20-year-old who thought he could have a joke, and it backfired. He is no less likely to make mistakes than the rest of us.

The fact that the media have made such a storm of this is indicative of the sad fact that the majority of the country really isn't ready to get rid of the monarchy. The reason that Prince Harry dressing up in a Nazi costume courts so much controversy is that the population clings to the misguided belief that the country can be embodied in one family. That somehow, by accident of birth, one family can automatically be assumed to be the absolute definition of what the country is.

And that is fundamentally wrong. When people say that we should feel sorry for William and Harry, they still shy away from the uncomfortable logic of their situation. For if their birth into the Royal Family did have symbolism, then we shouldn't feel sorry for them. There is a certain amount of providence behind their station. If we should feel sorry for them, however, then it is because they have been born into a public situation they may not want, through no fault of their own. In effect, that the Royal Family is no different from the rest of us. Of course it isn't. And that's why we shouldn't pay for their privilege.