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Harry, Meghan and the unpopularity of radical progressivism
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Harry and Meghan are now among the most unpopular public figures in Britain. That is what my polling reveals this week, after they released their Netflix documentary.
Amid their scathing attack on the royal family, which comes barely three months after the death of the Queen, the British give the young couple a ‘net rating’ of minus 26. If you want a reference point this is where Jeremy Corbyn was before the last election.
Harry’s ratings, in other polling, have crashed from -13 before the documentary to -26 while Meghan’s have slumped from -32 to -39. Of all the royals, only Prince Andrew, the disgraced prince, is more unpopular.
What explains their unpopularity and, more importantly, what is all this telling us about modern Britain? Well, listen to a certain section of the cultural left and you will be told this backlash reflects the dark underbelly of a racist nation. Britain simply never came to terms with a royal marrying somebody who is mixed-race.
This narrative is assiduously cultivated by Harry and Meghan themselves, with the Netflix documentary, amid dark violins, presenting the virtuous couple against the backdrop of what we are asked to believe is a deeply imperialist, racist, Brexit-voting, even violent nation that has still not come to terms with its past.
Only, I’m not convinced. Aside from sitting uncomfortably alongside a large pile of evidence which shows that levels of racial prejudice have now fallen to their lowest level in Britain’s recorded history —and have fallen even further since the vote for Brexit— much of this also glosses events in the recent past.
There was a time, not so long ago, when Harry and Meghan were among the most popular royal couples, more popular than Charles and Camilla and only disliked by around one in ten people --the same share who disliked the late Queen.
Nor were the British bothered by Meghan’s race. When they were asked how they felt about a royal marrying somebody who is mixed-race, most shrugged their shoulders.
Like having a non-white prime minister, or rejecting the idea that somebody who is not white is not truly British, the vast majority said it was ‘entirely acceptable’ for a royal to marry somebody of a different ethnicity. Meghan’s race was never the issue.
What is the issue, what has driven a wedge between the couple and the country is something else entirely. It is the belief system they have embraced, which is not only on full display in the documentary but now clearly shapes how they see the world.
In their rush to join the new elite, among whom loyalty to a particular set of beliefs has become as much an indicator of somebody’s social status as their material wealth, Harry and Meghan have clearly decided to go all in on ‘radical progressivism’.
This is a belief system which views the past and present of Western nations as structurally racist, which views their history not as a source of pride but shame and embarrassment, which defines people not as individuals but as members of fixed identity groups, who either belong to a victimised minority or the oppressive white majority which must seek forgiveness for its ‘white privilege’, and which, because of these things, demands we radically revise if not repudiate the established institutions, myths and memories of the majority, such as monarchy and our sense of history.
Whether reflected in Harry and Meghan’s regular references to dubious concepts such as ‘unconscious bias’, ‘systemic racism’ and ‘white privilege’, or their recruitment of radical progressive thinkers such as Afua Hirsch and Kehinde Andrews who crudely view Britishness through this racial identity politics, Harry and Meghan have now positioned themselves as leading spokespeople for this ideology.
For the morally righteous and narcissistic elite, this ideology it not simply political. It is, as professor John McWhorter notes, a ‘new religion’ for a new elite, a belief system which links anything and everything to racism, which shows remarkably little interest in any evidence to the contrary, seeks to ‘cancel’ detractors and is used by elites to both acquire more social status for themselves from other elites while simultaneously disassociating themselves from the supposedly racist, imperialist masses below.
But here’s the thing. This belief system, this ideology, which is only held by around 13-15 per cent of Britain, is really not very popular at all, which helps to explain why Harry, Meghan and radical progressives who tend to dominate much of the media, the creative industries, the cultural institutions, the universities, and no doubt the Netflix editorial meetings are rapidly losing friends and alienating the wider majority.
Take history, for example. Whereas radical progressives are obsessed with addressing what they see as historical injustices, with 84 per cent of them believing that Britain cannot move forward as a country if it does not acknowledge mistakes made during the days of empire, only 41 per cent of all British people think this way.
Conversely, whereas nearly 60 per cent of all British people think there is no point continually going over the rights and wrongs of our history, that we should instead move forward as a country and focus on the future, only 16 per cent of radical progressives agree.
Most people do not want to spend their time being lectured to by a small elite, being told to focus obsessively on what went wrong rather than what went right in their national history and to take responsibility for things which happened centuries ago and are routinely taken out of historical context, judged by the standards of today.
It is the same story when it comes to how people think about the legacy of empire, Britain’s role in the slave trade, or historical figures such as Winston Churchill.
Harry, Meghan and the radical progressives who dominate the institutions want us to focus overwhelmingly if not exclusively on the negative, chastising the country for things which happened decades if not centuries ago, and rewriting history around the new sacred goals of equality and diversity.
But a much larger number of people, as my polling shows, want to focus on both the good and the bad in the story of who we are --they want to acknowledge that while Britain’s Empire got some things wrong it also got some things right, that while Britain contributed to the slave trade it also played a major role in abolishing it, and while Churchill certainly said some unpleasant things this reflected the reality of the time and is massively outweighed by how he helped save Western civilisation.
Nor are most people convinced by the standard progressive trope, wheeled out by the likes of Harry and Meghan with little evidence beyond vague appeals to their ‘lived experience’, that Western nations such as Britain are ‘institutionally racist’.
Today, just 6 per cent of British people agree with the idea, fashionable in progressive circles, that Britain is ‘very racist’ while a majority, 60 per cent, reject this claim altogether. Most people loathe racism and do not want to live in a racist society.
But nor do they want the entire national conversation in the country —from what their children learn in school and the universities to what they are told by the media and museums- to be completely wrapped around this radical progressive story.
The key point is that when it comes to our history, our identity and our culture, most people do not share this worldview —a worldview that now permeates the newspaper columns, the BBC, the adverts, the television programmes, the films, the books and the Netflix documentaries they are bombarded with on a daily basis and which have reduced our culture to an extended lecture by a morally righteous small elite to the rest of the country, which is now looking on, like they look at Harry and Meghan, with a growing sense of despondency and disillusionment.
This not only helps to explain why support for Harry and Meghan has fallen off a cliff but why arguments about the culture wars are misleading. Ever since Megxit followed Brexit, it has been fashionable to argue that the fallout in the House of Windsor is symbolic of this deeper rift in the country.
The typically insightful Trevor Phillips captured this a couple of years ago when, like Brexit, he talked about Megxit as “a sign of deeper divisions between two emerging factions” in Britain.
“One Britain wants to join the 'progressive', globalist, woke world epitomised by Meghan and Harry's circle —George and Amal Clooney, Oprah Winfrey, the Obamas et al. Another yearns for the comfortable, domestic, common-sense future in which the Queen, William, Kate and Mary Berry represent the nation’s beating heart.”
Yet while there is some truth to this we should push back against accounts that present these two sides, these two very different visions of Britain, as though they are evenly balanced, as if the radical progressivism epitomised by Harry and Meghan is somehow comparable to the more traditionalist worldview epitomised by Will and Kate. Because it is not. Brexit was a 52-48 divide, but Megxit is more like 80-20, with Harry, Meghan and radical progressivism adrift from the values of the majority.
There is a reason why Will and Kate, who are far more in tune with the majority, enjoy net ratings of +62 and +57, respectively, while Harry and Meghan languish on -26 and -39, and why more than half the country tell me Will and Kate represent British values while not even one in ten say the same about Harry and Meghan.
The battle over who we are, playing out through this battle in the House of Windsor, is actually not that close at all. And we should say so more often than we do.
The radical progressivism which unites Harry, Meghan and the elite class who now disproportionately dominate the institutions is simply nowhere near to representing the worldview of the majority, which also helps to explain why the populist revolt against this elite and the institutions is continuing across the West.
Neither Harry and Meghan, nor Will and Kate, will be running for election anytime soon. But their very different levels of popularity, the reaction to the documentary, is telling us something about how the forgotten majority see their nation, their history, their identity and, ultimately, themselves. And given how wide this gulf now is it is high time that Britain’s institutions begin to reflect this reality, too.
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