That Time William Almost Became Political

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There’s one piece of royal news from a couple of weeks ago that I just never got around to covering: the Duke of Cambridge posing the question of drug criminalization during a recent engagement with the Spitalfields Crypt Trust. Speaking with three people who have benefited from the drug addiction charity’s program, he said:

 “Can I ask you a very massive question? It’s a big one, there’s obviously a lot of pressure growing in areas about legalising drugs and things like that: what are your individual opinions on that? I know it’s a big question, but you seem like the key people to actually get a very good idea as to, you know, what are the big dangers there. What are the feelings?”

To many, on its face, this doesn’t seem like a particularly groundbreaking question, but in fact the Royal Family is meant to remain politically neutral. What exactly neutrality means – and how it is maintained – is defined differently based on generation and individual, but the fact of the matter is, it is notoriously touchy when a royal wades into a political argument – or even a broader conversation that could have legislative implications. Think of the vitriol the Prince of Wales has faced for decades over his letters to Members of Parliament, or the furor caused by the late Princess of Wales calling for a global landmine ban back in 1997. The tone of this particular reign is naturally set by the Queen herself, and she very much follows the model of her father. Thus, since both have very carefully skirted opining on much of anything, it’s been nearly a century since there’s been a British monarch who addressed this issue differently.

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In this case, of course, William didn’t share an opinion. He only asked others for their own. Still, it caught the attention of many because 1) it’s just plain interesting that a member of the BRF would raise a politically fueled topic and 2) can it be taken that William might have a different attitude than his grandmother when it comes to the monarch’s role?

In case you are wondering, The Guardian did an excellent job of reporting the answers to the question and some background on the government’s drug policy.

I don’t think it’s too much of a reach to think this may have gotten some hackles up because of Charles’s past actions and reputation for “meddling.” Charles, as far as we can tell, does have a different attitude to the role of the BRF than his mother – the big question mark there is whether that definition extends to the specific role of the monarch. Will he lock it up once he ascends the throne, or does he mean to be a more politically involved sovereign? Naturally I have no way of knowing, but if he does I have a feeling we’re going to see a whole lot of hoopla about royal precedent when in fact there have absolutely been more biased monarchs – some even relatively recently. Whether that’s the end of the world – or the end of the monarchy – is a matter of opinion, but the fact remains that it’s not unprecedented.

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In William’s case it’s more a matter of how close or far the apple has fallen. Again, we don’t know the answer, but when you consider that both of his parents did feel it was their place to engaged on politically contentious issues when they felt it was right – landmines, GMOs, HIV/Aids, homelessness, etc. – it’s hard to imagine he and Prince Harry haven’t absorbed some of that.

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