I am not what you would call a Royal Watcher. I tend to steer clear of any ‘news’ stories about what hat the Queen has worn or about the birth of royal babies. But, over the last few days and weeks it has been impossible to avoid the ‘Harry and Megan want to quit the royals’ story.
The story, for anyone who has been enjoying blessed relief from the news cycle by living under a rock or in a cave, is that Prince Henry Charles Albert David Winsor (Duke of Sussex and sixth in line to the British throne) and his wife Meghan (a former American TV actress) would like to stop doing whatever it is that being in the Royal Family involves and do something else.
So, it seems that the country is about to hit a skills crisis with no one likely to be able to make up the shortfall in ribbon cutting, waving, handshaking and serious nodding. I believe that the Prime Minister has asked everyone to throw in a pound to retrain former members of the Love Island cast to pick up the slack.
What do you do with a problem like Harry and Meghan?
For careers people this is a simple problem that can be easily solved. A couple have re-evaluated some of their professional choices following having a baby and want to shift careers. It is difficult to disagree with their right to do this. Yes, it is complicated by the fact that I paid for his expensive private education, their (absurdly expensive) wedding and for their employment for the last few years. But, even if this is a huge amount of money, it still doesn’t give me the right to own them and determine where they should live and how they should spend their days. They are not highly paid slaves trapped in a gilded cage and should be allowed to run free and exercise their free will.
I’d like to see both Harry and Meghan offered the opportunity to access careers advice and supported to retrain. Giving up a highly paid job is (so I’ve heard) very difficult. There will inevitably be a period of adjustment for them, maybe some transitional stipend could be found (a form of flexicurity if you will). But, I’d be willing to bet that with their education, celebrity, networks, attractiveness and determination that they’ll be able to build a new life for themselves. I suspect that they won’t have to stoop to working in a fast food restaurant or even becoming a careers researcher. I have faith. They are going to do just fine.
So, is there a bigger problem here?
It is amazing how the coverage of the Harry and Meghan issue has deftly avoided what seems, to me, to be the main issue. Why do we have an extended family whose education, weddings and employment we pay for and whose businesses we underwrite. What do they do? Could anyone else do it? And, if there are other people out there who could do the waving and the reading out of the government’s programme, and the presenting of a programme on Christmas day that I’ll admit I’ve never watched, if there are other people who could do all of this, shouldn’t they get a shot at it.
The Royal Family are a constant reminder the Britain is a hierarchical class-ridden society. The existence of a family at the top who are insulated against financial problems justifies the idea that wealth and power are unequally spread throughout society. Opportunities are not there for everyone, but only for those born to them.
For those of us who believe that the opportunity to have a good career is a human right this is a massive problem. The Royal Family remind people who aren’t born with a silver spoon in their mouth, that there are many things that will be more difficult to achieve for them and some that are just impossible. This undermines the work that we are doing to encourage people to value their ability to self-determine the shape of their life. If we are going to democratize the concept of career and allow everyone to access it, then we also need to democratize our society and prevent an elite gathering up all of the opportunities and telling us that we were just born unlucky.
The monarchy is a sign of many of the things that are wrong with the opportunity structure in Britain. It is time for us to get a new head of state and give all of the major and minor royals the chance to build the careers that they’ve always dreamed of.
Well perhaps not all of them…