Reading the runes of the King’s first Christmas broadcast
A glance at my previous columns will reveal my feelings about royalty so don’t @ me, but Chazza’s first bash at a Christmas speech seemed well judged to me. Striking a contemplative tone, the novice monarch managed to touch on a number of issues that unify us at this time of year, and crucially, without conveniently ignoring the desperate state of the nation.
The remaining acceptable royals ‒ Camilla, William, Kate, Edward, Sophie, and Anne were shown off in a predictably Disneyfied montage of caring activities to illustrate Charles’ central theme of public service. Andrew, Harry, and Meghan have, of course, been airbrushed out of the picture Soviet-style, and it was rictus grins and empathy frowns all round for the remaining cast as they engaged with the great unwashed for the cameras.
In his first address to the nation, the day after his mother’s passing, Charles was at pains to emphasise that his days as a gobby critic of the body politic were at an end now that he had assumed the throne. In that same speech, however, he unnecessarily installed William as Prince of Wales, completely evading any political scrutiny as even Plaid Cymru felt too inhibited by the etiquette of mourning to object. Since then, he’s kept his hand in politically by using sarcasm to provide a thin cloak of deniability. Here he is eviscerating Sir Jeffrey Donaldson of the DUP whilst casting the royal glow of approval over Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill.
And this is the thing with Charles: he’s a complicated man. Given that the DUP’s raison d’être is loyalty to the Crown, you might expect Charles to favour them over the organisation whose armed wing assassinated his uncle. Whatever is going on in that clip, it seems to come as a surprise to all involved except the lad himself.
The Christmas message had a hint of subversion, too, if you cared to look. On the surface, Charles’ message was about unity and service. These are the touchstones of the modern royal schtick and the favoured tropes for justifying their continuance in national life. So far, so Elizabethan. It didn’t take him long to put his own stamp on proceedings, however.
Having related his experience in Bethlehem to underscore his own faith, he named other religions as the equal of his own and explicitly extended his message to include those of no faith. He characterised Christmas as a celebration of light overtaking darkness which, as anybody with a Jethro Tull album knows, is a decidedly Pagan interpretation of the festival. For years, Charles has said that he intended to be a defender of the faiths and on his first yuletide outing, he seems to have come good on that ambition.
Whilst the section on service fulfilled a clunky PR role for the slimmed-down Firm, it also featured an extended tribute to public service workers. The armed forces were mentioned first, but extremely briefly and that, of itself, drew a distinction with the Duke of Edinburgh’s directorial choice to place Her Maj between tanks like a cross between Rambo and your nan.
NHS and care workers
Charles’ vision of service extended to the NHS and care workers. Interestingly, footage of ambulances was used to illustrate this and it’s difficult to believe that the palace was unaware of the contention this might provoke during the current disputes. As he paid tribute to ‘health and social care professionals, our teachers and indeed all those working in public service, whose skill and commitment are at the heart of our communities’ one could imagine the consternation in Downing Street.
Charles, it seems, is going to be a handful. As public sector disputes spread in the New Year we will doubtless see government rhetoric intensifying as the Tory administration seeks to discredit the strikers, calling into question their patriotism and wider motives. Despite polls showing 70% public support for the strikes, Keir Starmer’s opposition is committed to treading an imaginary middle line which they are convinced will win over floating voters.
So far, the only ringing endorsement of public sector workers has come from a king who seems to recognise that he is one himself. He has positioned himself as an embarrassment to the right, who profess loyalty but disagree with everything he says, and the left who agree with his positions but believe in the abolition of his role. For politicians, Charles looks set to be a right, royal pain.
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.