Never let it be said that I am a royalist. My aversion to covering the birth of noble progeny is legendary. If we could abolish the monarchy tomorrow I’d be cock-a-hoop; though a glance across the Atlantic suggests a presidential system may have pitfalls of its own.
Yet there’s something about the way the right-wing media has rounded on Prince Harry and Meghan Markle that immediately makes me want to leap to their defence. They’re such easy targets for sour-faced columnists like Amanda Platell, Sarah Vine and Giles Coren, who are weaponising them as part of a wider culture war.
Harry and Meghan represent everything they despise; youth, idealism and a social conscience (which they would dismiss as “virtue signalling”). How much Vine’s “memo to Markle” – a poisonous piece about Meghan’s decision to guest-edit British Vogue – revealed about the woman who wrote it, and how little about Meghan. The criticism of her choice of inspirational women (because if Vine hasn’t heard of them, they can’t be worth knowing); the whining about her sponging (when we all know Vine’s kitchen cost £7,000 of public money). And, above all, the sneering reference to her “woke antennae” – wokeness being the go-to insult for all those who bask in their own bigotry.
There’s sexism behind the constant portrayal of Harry as under-the-thumb, and the insinuation that Markle – one of yer actual feminists – has infiltrated the Royal Family for the purpose of infecting it with new-fangled ideas on gender equality. If Harry was proper male royalty, he’d be off rogering his mistress, not getting down and dirty with Archie’s nappies.
More difficult to pin down, but still tangible, is the racism. No commentator is going to launch a direct attack on Meghan’s ethnicity, but the idea of her as an outsider, someone who doesn’t quite fit in, is always hovering just below the surface, along with the contention that she and English rose, Kate, couldn’t possibly get along. That Coren felt able to make this joke – “The couple had hoped to see a family planning expert but a primatologist was all the cash-strapped NHS could muster” – in response to an interview with Jane Goodall, in which Harry had called out “unconscious racism” shows just how brazen they are.
The tone of moral superiority, perfected by Vine et al, was on display again as Harry travelled to the “secretive” Google climate change camp in Palermo, with a bevy of other famous figures, including Leonardo DiCaprio and Stella McCartney. What a golden opportunity those celebrities provided to writers who have done less than nothing on climate change, but couldn’t wait to condemn the conference-goers as insincere do-gooders.
The Mail pandered to the Brexit crowd, branding those who attended as “the greenerati” – with its overtones of elitism – while Andrew Neil wanged on about the 114 private jets and the flotilla of super-yachts (even though no-one seems to know how Harry travelled there).
Equally, when Harry told Goodall he and Meghan were going to limit themselves to two children to reduce their carbon footprint, his comment was cast, not as the expression of a genuine commitment to cutting emissions, but as a jibe aimed at William and Kate, who already have three. Ever the misogynist, Coren also claimed it was down to Meghan no longer wanting sex and having “raised the drawbridge”. Ain’t he heard of contraception?
You do not have to be rich and famous to be trolled for protesting against climate change, as Greta Thunberg has discovered. In the latest in a string of unedifying attacks on the 16-year-old activist, who is autistic, Australian News Corps columnist Andrew Bolt described her as “deeply disturbed”, “freakishly influential” and strange. Right-wing French MPs demonstrated more imagination, but just as little empathy, when they called her “guru of the apocalypse”. There is even a meme. Last week, Ukip politician and climate change denier Neil Hamilton posted a photograph of her with scary devil eyes and the caption: “Have you done anything this week that Greta might disapprove of?”
The same is true of all the children who went on “strike” and staged protests across the country. Instead of being commended for their passion, they were derided for not having come up with a step-by-step guide to tackling a problem adults had systematically failed to address.
Those commentators who take pot shots at children, and at Harry and Meghan, for climate change “hypocrisy” are trying to expose the hippy upstarts as shallow poseurs. The hypocrisy, however, is all theirs. Because their mockery isn’t aimed at generating a debate on what a serious commitment to living an eco-friendly lifestyle might look like, it is aimed at shutting it down.
Someone truly engaged in saving the planet might have explored the trade-off between the carbon emissions created by all the jets travelling to Palermo and the publicity generated by having such a high-profile event placing climate change at the top of its agenda.
They might have used the conference as a springboard for a discussion on the contradictions in all our lives (for example, my husband and I have given up one of our cars, but still over-use our tumble drier). They might have asked: how can we tread more lightly while continuing to keep on top of our busy schedules?
As for Harry and Meghan’s decision to limit their family to a maximum of two children, this is something that deserves proper scrutiny, not high-handed dismissal. Because according to scientific studies, it’s an effective way of cutting carbon emissions (although, obviously, no-one should feel forced to comply). According to a study from 2017, having one less child will save 58.6 tonnes of CO2-equivalent per year – more than selling your car, avoiding long flights or eating a vegetarian diet; so less mockery is in order.
Equally, criticisms of the couple’s £2.4m renovations to Frogmore Cottage may be evidence that they are a burden on the taxpayer, but not that they are hypocritical about climate change. Some of that money was spent on eco-friendly, toxin-free paint and a £50,000 green energy unit to supply all their heat, hot water and electricity.
Personally, if we have to have a monarchy, then I would rather it was represented by Harry and Meghan than the Sarah Vines of this world. Sure, if they want to preach about our carbon footprint, they should probably think more about the way their lifestyle impacts on the environment. They should ensure their deeds match up to their words. But encouraged, rather than scorned, they could turn out to be powerful voices on the most important issue of our time.