There is a firm, if unwritten, rule that the Royal Family keeps a low profile during General Election campaigns. It doesn’t mean they stop working or going about their duties. It does mean they take extra special care not to say anything controversial or anything that could be construed as political. Given the immense and insatiable public interest in anything a member of the Royal Family does or says personal issues are also avoided. Why so? For the very simple reason that news about the Royal Family obliterates all other news, wipes everything else from the front pages, dominates news headlines and relegates everything and everyone else to second place. This is the practical impact of Prince Andrew’s interview with Emily Maitlis. For the politicians struggling to attract our attention as well as our vote, and for Prince Andrew struggling to shake off our attention, it is a disaster.
Prince Andrew has now been leading the headlines for four days, with no sign of the interest abating. The nation is squaring up to a serious political decision in barely four weeks time and it finds itself distracted. Those members of the Royal Family who carry out public duties are public figures. Rightly what they do and how they do it is a matter of public interest and scrutiny. By virtue of their position they carry special responsibilities. One of them is to know when to pipe down. Whatever the merits and demerits of a one hour set piece Newsnight Special interview with the shrewd and tough Emily Maitlis – and any sensible seasoned politician would think twice about doing such an interview – the middle of a General Election campaign was not the time for Prince Andrew to address the nation.
One of the key jobs of any Prime Minister is to advise the Sovereign on all matters, public and personal, when asked. For Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn, now contending to be Prime Minister the advice they will have to give will be weighing on their minds. As Tony Blair found at the time of Princess Diana’s death there is no experience or precedent to rely on. You have to resort to good judgement, wisdom and a sense of what the public will and will not tolerate. It might be that the Prime Minister has already been asked to render advice. We may never know. One thing is certain however is what to do with Prince Andrew, his future role and responsibilities, it will be settled once polling day has come and gone. It is an issue that has become as much a political issue for the Prime Minister as it has for the Queen as head of “the firm”. It is a problem neither the Monarch nor her Prime Minister will relish discussing.