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Irish Independent
Irish Independent

King Charles III made all the right calls in his Christmas speech... sometimes it’s what they don’t say that matters

Britain's King Charles III during the recording of his first Christmas broadcast in the Quire of St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle. Pic: Victoria Jones/PA Wire

Very often it’s what they don’t say, and how they don’t say it, that matters as much as the actual formal text of a public address. As a new head of state, with an undeniably hard act to follow, the Britain’s King Charles made all the right calls in his Christmas address.

There was no provocative reference to family strife since Harry and his daughter in law Meghan left their royal duties to live in California, perhaps indicating both that “Megxit means Megxit”. He also maintained the current one-sided truce in the (latest) war of the Windsors.

The king will be well aware that Duke of Sussex’s memoir, poignantly entitled ‘Spare’, will be out in a few weeks, and there might be some bombshells in it. If so, then that may be the moment to review the policy of “dignified silence”. Until then, there’s no need to fire back and escalate the conflict.

The Christmas Eve bombing raid on The Sun by Harry and Meghan about the Jeremy Clarkson column doesn’t demand an immediate response. The king can’t be much fonder of the Murdoch press than his son is. And it’s Christmas Day, after all. Goodwill to all Windsors, and all that. They even let Prince Andrew out on day release.

I’ve a feeling that the viewing figures may dip a bit this year, simply because, in rather crude showbiz terms, he didn’t have quite the pulling power and authority of his “beloved mother”, but there’s not much he can do about that. She was a bit of a fixture on Christmas Day, it has to be said.

Wisely, Charles chose the “exquisite” Chapel of St George at Windsor Castle as a “set”, where the late Queen is laid to rest with Prince Philip – obliquely summing up that sense of continuity and legitimacy that’s so essential in a hereditary monarchy. He is standing there, after all, for no better reason than the vagaries of the hereditary principle, so the card needs to played for all it is worth.

The stand up speech also meant that he didn’t have to sit at a desk and fuss about which photos to point at the camera. His mum and dad, yes; Wills and Kate too – but what about Harry, Megs, Andrew, and, of course, Diana? No need to fuel speculation with the choice of props.

Also absent was anything even vaguely political. There was nothing in the address that Rishi Sunak wouldn’t have said, and naturally the text had been sent to Downing Street for consultation and approval. The prime minster acknowledged that people are finding things tough; that paying the bills is more difficult and it’s a time of “anxiety and hardship” – hardly a point of contention, and thus hardly a criticism of his government.

He referenced food donations and food given out by faith organisations, but then again Sunak was filmed dishing out breakfasts to the homeless. It’s not very political – and it has all been said under what watchful eye of Number 10. It’s nothing new, either.

A half-century ago, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth was warned off by the then prime minister Edward Heath from making even the most harmless of remarks about the bitter industrial disputes and the power cuts of 1973-74.

The king not only avoided the strikes and economic crisis, but also left to one side all the issues he used to bang on about as Prince of Wales. If the king thinks the government’s asylum policy is “appalling”, as was leaked out a few months ago, then you’d never know it from the speech.

He did not say, as his great Uncle Edward VIII once remarked, that “something must be done” about people in poverty. The king did not even mention the Cop 27 summit or the climate crisis more broadly. There was nothing about architecture (ie habitable homes), nor organic farming or alternative medicine. He is adopting a fairly small “c” conception of the role of a constitutional monarch.

He did mention different faiths, but, then again, that isn’t so much of an issue in multicultural, multiracial Britain these days: he always said he wanted to be “a defender of faith”, not just “the faith”. Besides, the monarchy has to give a bit of a lead, even if it’s still neutral politically, or else it would drown in its own platitudes.

Perhaps more surprising, there’s wasn’t much talk about the Commonwealth. It just got the one mention, and fleeting at that. That’s a bit more telling, as if this king doesn’t quite share his mother’s commitment to it, and has a rather laissez-faire attitude to its future. It may be it was she who was keener on him securing the title “head of the Commonwealth”, than he was. It’s realistic.

The old bonds are eroding. The damage inflicted by some unfortunate PR disasters during William and Kate’s visit to Belize, the Bahamas and Jamaica seems to be lasting. So, too, the race bombshells dropped by Prince Harry and Meghan in 2021 may be irreparable in the Black nations of the Commonwealth, as evidenced by Barbados dropping the queen as head of state last year.

By the time the coronation arrives next year, Charles III may not be head of state of a few other of his current realms beyond the seas. You get the impression he wouldn’t be that bothered.

So, the king did the best he could in the shadow of Elizabeth II, whose words during the pandemic – “we will meet again” – were a masterpiece of public communication. For now, all he has to do is avoid gaffes, and allow his country to get used to him. To that degree, the King’s speech was an elegant success.

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