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Sensemaker: Royal knock-outs

Sensemaker: Royal knock-outs

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Dozens of women escaped from police overnight after being trapped in Yangon during an International Women’s Day march against Myanmar’s coup.
  • The first of 1,000 ancient oaks to be used in the rebuilding of Notre Dame cathedral was felled in a former royal forest in France.
  • The UK Fireball Alliance led scientists to a rare carbonaceous chondrite meteorite that landed last week in a Gloucestershire driveway. 

Royal knock-outs

I am one of those people who struggles to be interested in royal stories. The interview given by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to Oprah Winfrey is very much not my bag. But a few things have emerged from the noise around the interview that do bear consideration.

The first is that the media is clearly prejudiced against the Duchess. Part of it is that the press sees all women who marry into the royal family as fair game, as Helen Lewis has written in the Atlantic. Princess Diana was destroyed, piece by piece, over many years. 

But this BuzzFeed article is quite neat in demonstrating how differently the Duchesses of Sussex and Cambridge have been treated in the press. Why have journalists taken against her in particular? Some of it may be about anti-American sentiment. But it may be illustrative to note the differences in reporting on white and black footballers. Journalism has a race problem.

The second point is that the Sussexes report an issue with racism within the Royal Family itself. They also stated that there was no support for the Duchess when her mental health was being shredded by her life inside the royal family. These are troubling complaints about the management of a public institution. They deserve to be taken seriously in their own right, and Buckingham Palace will need to respond. 

But this is an argument that is bigger than a household. The big picture is that the purpose of the monarchy is to be blank tablets whom we are relaxed to have built up by the institutions of state. The best case for the monarchy in Britain is that opening up their role to debate would start a brutal argument in a country that has too many of those. That case will hold so long as people are faintly fond of the royals. But this may have pulled at that thread. 

Polling on the argument splits, like everything else, down Remain/Leave lines. So the royals have been dragged into the country’s culture war. Young people tend to like the Sussexes. Older people tend to like the family. Rather than being to one side from the normal political arguments, they are now part of it: attitudes to race and mental health are deeply political.

It is not clear where this leads. Australia will, surely, ditch the royals soon enough. What about other Commonwealth countries? A time when nationalism is on the march is a bad moment for one of the institutions with respect across the UK to become seen as totems of one side of the partisan divide. 

Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

Lula returns
Thanks to a surprise judgment in Brazil, the country’s most popular politician is suddenly back in the running. Lula da Silva, snared in the country’s “Car Wash” anti-corruption investigation, has had his sentences quashed. Assuming that this judgment is ratified by a higher court (which is deemed likely), it means the 75 year-old will be freed from the consequences of a 2017 prosecution and will be free to face Jair Bolsonaro – the Amazon-chopping hard-right populist who recently told Brazilians to “stop whining” about Covid – at next year’s presidential election. Lula, who served as president from 2003 to 2010, is already ahead of Bolsonaro in the polls.

New things technology, science, engineering

Arizona is proposing a new law that would prevent Apple and Google demanding that app makers use the tech giants’ payment systems. This, in turn, would mean they would be unable to take a cut of any sales made in-app. This is potentially a big deal, as it threatens to pull down the defences that Apple in particular has erected around itself. At the moment, the iPhone makes money for Apple via the App Store long after you leave the Apple Store. This is a stream of revenue worth $15 billion a year to Apple, and the cut it takes can be as much as 30 per cent of the app price. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, has previously said this system is differentiated – big and small developers pay different amounts – and has said this would “destroy the iPhone as we know it”. 

The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY

R budgets
English schools are now back. And in a sign that it is possible to learn, the English government has also acknowledged that this might drive an uptick in the Covid infection rate across the country that could cause the rest of the country’s reopening to be slowed down. This is what properly prioritising school opening looks like. One thing that the government ought to be doing now, though? Secure funding for the Oak National Academy: Oak is an online lesson hub. A group of educationalists built a library of thousands of lessons and a tech platform to deliver them. For a lot of kids, the ability to rewatch lessons is a huge boon. For sick children, too. And it will help teachers if they can watch other teachers’ lessons. For a few million pounds a year, it seems an absolute no-brainer that this is worth funding by national government. 

Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Headless slugs
A slug has, it transpires, perfected a skill that Charles I and Louis XVIII would have benefited from. As the Guardian puts it: “Scientists in Japan have discovered that this species of sea slug can decapitate itself and then regrow an entirely new body, complete with a beating heart and other vital organs.” Part of the key to this trick is that the slugs can photosynthesise: they are, as one scientist puts it, “solar-powered slugs”.

Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Big changes
Andrew Bailey, the governor of the Bank of England, has said that he expects shifts in habits and patterns developed during the pandemic to remain permanent. Speaking to the Resolution Foundation, he said: “We will work more from home than we used to and shop more online because new habits will persist to some degree, and to the extent they unwind it will be over a period of time.” This is a frustratingly vague prognosis, but it points to the right question. What will the new normal be? The answer is remarkably hard to predict. I can’t work out what I should be watching on this front.

Stay safe, wash your hands, open windows when you can. 

Chris Cook

Photographs Getty Images

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