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Will the royal wedding 'reboot' the British monarchy?


Matt Frei | 22:34 UK time, Tuesday, 26 April 2011

kate_William.jpgSuch is the fairytale nature of the imminent royal wedding that even London's notoriously treacherous weather has, in the build-up, at least been suitably deferential.

On the American television networks, anchormen and women are falling over each other to talk about the easygoing, recession-defying charm of a couple that seems perfectly in love, delicately thumbing their noses at recent family history, the straitjacket of protocol and, one hopes, the prying eyes of billions.

The world wishes them well. But hours of air time need to be filled and even the most gripping interviews with former Buckingham Palace pastry chefs, part-time nannies, dress designers and people who once had lunch with people who once had lunch with a royal do not do the trick.

So the discussion has inevitably turned to other matters. First, there is the question whether the British monarchy can be "rebooted" by the infusion of fresh blood after this wedding. After the nuptials have ended, the answer to this constitutional question will surely hinge on how the various palaces negotiate the messy minefield of whether Charles could step aside in favour of Wills.

Most monarchists and monarchy experts seem to think this question could open a terrible can of worms, best left closed even if the tabloids and much of the public want to prise it open.

Secondly, there is plenty of serious discussion about that persistent British poison: class. Does the pit-to-palace fairytale of the Middleton family represent a genuine rebirth for the monarchy and an example of social mobility? Admittedly, that transition from the coal mines of Durham to Buckingham Palace has taken 150 years. But is Kate Middleton the embodiment of a British dream?

Well, no. But the monarchy is less stuffy than it used to be. Diana dragged it publicly into the messy, modern age kicking and screaming. And like in America, all the economic indicators point to the idea that social mobility has stagnated or gone in the wrong direction. The middle class feels squeezed on both sides of the pond. Views of the future are bleak.

A majority in both the US and the UK believe their children will be worse off. The poison of class trickling down from the Palace through the aristocracy to the upper middle class, the lower middle class and so on (only Britain had these sub-categories) has left trace elements. There are still plenty of snobs who prove, as George Bernard Shaw once said, that no Englishman can open his mouth without being despised by another Englishman. But their numbers have dwindled.

Britain's new elite has made its money in the City of London. The gulf between the rich and everyone else is a chasm. And there is nothing that Wills and Kate can do about it.

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