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At first blush, it seems pretty clear: members of the Royal Family are to remain above the political fray.
But is it always so cut-and-dried? And is it ultimately possible to suss out what the royals may think politically, even if they are trying to keep their views to themselves?
“At the core of the British constitution is the ‘cardinal convention,'” Craig Prescott, a constitutional expert at Bangor University in Wales, said via email.
“This is the constitutional requirement that the Queen always acts on the advice of the government.”
Government is carried out in the name of the Crown, Prescott said, “but … the role of the monarch is a formality.”
“This ensures that political decisions are reached via the political process, meaning that politicians are held to account for the decisions that they make,” he said.
“By extension, this applies to all members of the Royal Family, and … they also are expected to be above day-to-day politics.”
Still, the Queen has the right to be consulted, and can express her views to the British prime minister of the day and other government ministers, something she can do in her weekly audience with the PM (now occurring with Boris Johnson over the phone, courtesy of COVID-19).
“These discussions are strictly confidential,” said Prescott. “This means that it’s difficult to know much about the Queen’s views on politics, although one of her former private secretaries, Lord Charteris, suggested ‘that the Queen prefers a sort of consensus politics rather than a polarized one.'”
That’s not to say there hasn’t been great interest over the years in trying to suss out what the Queen thinks — right down to wondering if her choice of dress or hat might be a subtle signal.
Members of the Royal Family “definitely exist on a political spectrum themselves, but it’s not supposed to be that easy to figure out,” said John Fraser, author of The Secret of the Crown: Canada’s Affair with Royalty, and founding president of the Institute for the Study of the Crown in Canada. “You were never supposed to be able to find out how right-wing the Queen Mother was, for example.”
These days, there’s been speculation about the political stances of Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, who are living in California after stepping back from the upper echelons of the Royal Family. Much attention focused on comments they made recently about voting in a video released in connection with Time magazine’s list of 100 of the world’s most influential people.
Those comments, Prescott said, are in contrast to comments made by the Queen that have been seen by many in a political light.
“Her comments before the Scottish referendum ‘about using your vote wisely’ were widely interpreted as being against independence.
“Similarly, in 2019, the Queen made comments calling for ‘common ground’ and respecting those who hold a different point of view. This was widely interpreted as a coded comment on Brexit.”
It all reflects consensus politics, Presscot said. “On both occasions, it’s hard to believe that the Queen was acting entirely without government advice, but she was willing to make these carefully chosen comments.”
Harry and Meghan’s recent comments about voting “in and of themselves may seem inoffensive, and in isolation actually hard to disagree with,” Prescott said.
The problem, he said, is the context in which the comments were made. Looking at U.S. politics from the U.K., it appears polarized, “making any intervention fraught with difficulty.”
“Given the views of the Sussexes on a whole range of issues, it is not hard to see where the Duke and Duchess stand on the political divide.”
For Prince Harry in particular, Prescott said, “it does appear to be ‘meddling,’ as he remains a British citizen and is ineligible to vote in the upcoming [U.S.] election.”
Fraser isn’t so sure it matters much, particularly given Harry isn’t a working member of the Royal Family anymore.
“He’s not any longer an important figure in terms of the constitution, in terms of the actual work of the Royal Family. He’s out of it. He’s like the Hollywood personality now,” Fraser said.
“In terms of what they’re doing in the States … it’s interesting. I just don’t think it’s of any consequence, certainly of any consequence constitutionally.”
Whatever Harry may say, Fraser doesn’t expect we’ll see his elder brother, William, making similar comments, particularly given his position in direct line to the throne.
“He understands the role he has to play. The weight of non-political tedium is on his shoulders already,” said Fraser. “It’s not on Harry’s. Harry’s gung-ho to say what he thinks, but you won’t hear it from William.”
Taking a shot for the environment
When Prince William formally launched what has been billed as the biggest environmental prize ever this week, there was little in the way of criticism.
It was a far cry from how his father was received three or four decades ago when he was trying to rally attention for threats he saw to the natural world.
At the time, Prince Charles was roundly criticized. Sometimes he was mocked for speaking to plants. After he gave a talk about plastics and other waste, the heir to the throne recalled, he was “considered old-fashioned, out of touch and ‘anti-science’ for warning of such things.”
The contrast in reception reflects changing times and views on the environment, and also the longstanding interest royals have taken in the issue.
The Earthshot Prize will award 50 million pounds in a search for 50 solutions to the most serious environmental problems by the end of the decade.
In an interview with the BBC, William said the launch of the prize marks the point at which he takes up the charge of environmental campaigning from Charles.
“I feel it’s my responsibility now,” he said.
William joined forces for the Earthshot Prize with broadcaster David Attenborough, who has a longstanding interest in the environment and involvement with the Royal Family on the issue.
“Royal philanthropy often addresses complex challenges that take generations to solve, and the decades of advocacy by members of the Royal Family for protection of the environment and endangered species follows this pattern,” said Carolyn Harris, a Toronto-based royal author and historian.
Do you like spiders?
Attenborough’s involvement with the Royal Family on environmental issues was also front and centre in a recent video that offered a rare glimpse — and a rare chance to hear the voices — of the three children of Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge.
William and Kate, who have been vigilant in protecting the privacy of Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, posted the video that gave the youngsters a chance to put questions to the 94-year-old environmentalist.
George, 7, wondered what animal might become extinct next. Charlotte, 5, likes spiders and wondered if Attenborough does, too. Louis had a relatively simple question about Attenborough’s favourite animal — or “amimal,” as the two-year-old put it. (Turns out Attenborough is partial to monkeys, and would pick a puppy over a kitten.)
Sir David Attenborough, we’ve got some questions for you…🌍🕷️🐒 <a href=”https://t.co/MTQ68WnOrt”>pic.twitter.com/MTQ68WnOrt</a>
Camilla Tominey, associate editor of the Telegraph newspaper and a longtime royal correspondent, wrote that “the no-frills footage paints a picture of ‘normality,’ reflecting William and Kate’s efforts to give their children as grounded an upbringing as possible.”
She also said the video follows a steady stream of photographs of the children during the pandemic lockdown, “which have helped to cement their place as the House of Windsor’s ‘First Family.'”
Harris, the royal historian, also saw a reflection in the video of current times, and how physical distancing and avoidance of large gatherings have become the norm for everyone.
“The conversation with David Attenborough was an opportunity for the Cambridge children to be visible to the public during a year when the usual royal events such as Trooping the Colour or royal weddings do not feature the extended Royal Family coming together.”
The video, it seems, has found its fans: it’s been viewed 2.6 million times.
Royals in Canada
Even though Queen Elizabeth may be scrupulous about keeping her political views to herself, there’s no doubt politics was front of mind for those organizing her trip to Canada during her Silver Jubilee year.
Elizabeth, who was marking 25 years on the throne, and Prince Philip landed in Ottawa for a six-day visit on Oct. 14, 1977. They arrived in a country caught up in a crisis of national unity and the spectre of Quebec separatism.
Watch: The Queen attends a state dinner in Ottawa:
In addition to reading the speech from the throne, Elizabeth delivered a speech at a state dinner that had been drafted by Canadian officials.
“In a world divided by differences of colour, race, language, religion and ideology, the Canadian experience stands out as a message of hope,” she concluded in the speech that was broadcast on television across the country. “My prayer is that you will continue to offer this message to mankind.”
- Our friends in CBC Archives have taken a closer look at the serious and less serious moments of that 1977 visit, including how the prime minister of the day, Pierre Trudeau, was pleased to be seen publicly with the Queen at a football game “because that is one of the rare occasions when there are no hecklers in the crowd.”
“There are many absolutely incredible women working from the grassroots up, whose life experiences, as well as their capabilities, more than qualify them for a voice at the table. Many are unheard heroines that keep peace within and across communities.”
— Sophie, Countess of Wessex, during a virtual conference this week on the role women can play in preventing and resolving conflicts, peace negotiations and peace-building in the Arab world.
- A painting of Sarah Forbes Bonetta, an enslaved girl from what is now the west African country of Benin who was also a goddaughter of Queen Victoria, has been unveiled as part of a project to highlight Black figures who have been overlooked. [The Guardian]
- Queen Elizabeth says the pandemic has shown the need for “trusted, reliable” news sources. [The Independent]
- Finding Freedom, a recent biography of Harry and Meghan, can be used by the Mail on Sunday in its defence in a privacy case regarding publication of a letter Meghan sent to her father. In another case, a news agency has apologized to Harry and Meghan for allegedly using a drone to take photos of their son, Archie. [BBC]
- The Daily Mail has been publishing excerpts from another much-anticipated book focused on a royal subject. Historian Robert Lacey looks at the relationship between Harry and William in Battle of Brothers: William, Harry and the Inside Story of a Family in Tumult. In one excerpt from the book that will be published next week, Lacey writes that the roots of a rift between them started long before Meghan came on the scene.
LETTER: It's a myth that young people don't care about politics – North Shore News
We’ve all heard the myths that young people don’t care about politics. When post-secondary students come to the table to engage in political discourse and bring forward the concerns of our peers, we are often met with dismissive attitudes, and the assertion that if we don’t show up to the polls, we don’t get to criticize the way that things are.
These myths ignore some crucial evidence about students and our political engagement. Studies show that students are 15% more likely to vote than non-students in our respective age groups. In BC, the voter turnout amongst people aged 18-24 increased by 17.1% since 2009 according to Elections BC. The under 40 population now makes up the largest voting demographic, and our needs and concerns need to be fully considered by each party and every candidate this election. Students do care, and we do show up to vote. We are engaged in our communities, and are participating in an enormous undertaking by pursuing an education for the betterment of ourselves and our province.
Young people were the hardest hit by the pandemic in terms of job loss, meanwhile, many students were unable to get the financial assistance they needed through this economic downturn. Students are continuing to pursue their education in hopes of improving their situation and positively contribute to our communities, despite the fact that 75% of students have suffered significant financial hardship and will be impacted well beyond 2020.
We need to see our party leaders putting forward policies that not only consider the interests of students and how we have been uniquely impacted by the pandemic, but that properly recognize the diversity within the student experience. Students with dependents are navigating childcare and schooling during the pandemic while trying to complete their studies. Students living in remote areas that have poorer wifi connection are struggling to keep up with the demands on online learning. Student mental health was already declining, and is in serious jeopardy due to these exacerbating circumstances.
We call upon every candidate and each party leader to commit towards putting forward initiatives to support students as we move forward through the pandemic. The future is uncertain, but students are working hard to find solutions and support our recovery efforts. Students are not just the leaders of tomorrow, we are already working for a brighter future for our province.
What are your thoughts? Send us a letter via email by clicking here or post a comment below.
Managing a Team with Conflicting Political Views – Harvard Business Review
Politics around the world seem to be getting more and more divisive, and it’s impossible for the topic not to enter into our everyday conversations — including those that happen at work. When people on your team have differing views, those conversations can often get tense.
As a manager, what should you do? Should you ban political talk? What sort of ground rules can you lay down for these conversations? And how can you make sure you don’t harbor grudges against colleagues who don’t share your beliefs?
What the Experts Say
In a typical election years, managing a team with opposing political views is not easy or straightforward. But this polarized, pandemic-weary period has made the task even more complicated, says Tina Opie, associate professor in the management division at Babson College. In the U.S., the high-stakes presidential race, combined with the Covid-19 health emergency and continued social unrest over racial injustice, is “affecting employees as people, and it’s also affecting how they show up at work,” she says.
Even the most dedicated workers may find it difficult to compartmentalize their jobs from what’s happening in the political arena. “It’s on their minds, and since people spend the majority of their waking hours with their colleagues,” it’s inevitable that it will seep into their everyday conversations, Opie says.
Your challenge as a manager is to make sure that as passions run high and viewpoints clash, the workplace remains respectful and productive, says Emily Gregory, a vice president at VitalSmarts, the leadership training company. “A manager’s job is to create an environment where people feel safe to contribute their ideas and experiences,” she says. Here is some advice on how to do that.
Set an example.
Leading a team of people with dissimilar political stripes requires a “robust understanding and appreciation of different perspectives,” says Opie. In that way, it’s similar to managing a team comprised of employees from different cultures, races, genders, and backgrounds. Party allegiance is another element of diversity. A certain degree of conflict may be unavoidable, but it doesn’t have to be uncivilized. You set the right tone and tenor for how your team members relate to one another.
Gregory recommends laying the groundwork during meetings by modeling inclusivity, encouraging divergent views, demonstrating respect for others, and showing a willingness to challenge your own assumptions — not just on political topics but about anything on which the team disagrees. Acknowledge the taxing political environment and appeal to your team members’ compassion. Remind them that even if “someone on the team is voting differently” from them, “they can still care for and deeply respect that person,” says Gregory.
Don’t ban political talk.
It may be tempting to make your workplace a politics-free zone in the interest of team cohesion and unity, but at a time when nearly 60% of American employees say they have engaged in political discussions at work, banning political talk is impractical and counterproductive, according to Gregory. “Putting down barriers about what people can and can’t say hurts team culture more than it builds it,” she says. “Topics shouldn’t be off-limits.”
Prohibiting political conversation could also backfire, says Opie. “Some people already feel they are rendered invisible because of what’s happening” on the national stage, and if you, the manager, make certain topics off limits, it could be viewed as sanctioning ignorance and even aggression. So many of today’s big issues concern social justice, equality, and “basic human rights — which are larger than politics.”
Don’t force it.
Of course, not everyone will be interested in having political discussions. Talking about politics or certain politicians “could be a trigger for some colleagues,” says Opie. Make clear that these conversations should only happen between team members who are willing and eager to participate, and no one should be dragged into the discussion, even if they were willing to talk about it previously. These interactions require curiosity and humility — and some days for whatever reason, some people might not be able to summon the interest and restraint, says Gregory. Make sure employees know they can delay the conversation indefinitely, too.
Establish rules of engagement.
Even with you modeling the right behavior, your team may not be skilled at having these types of conversations. “It isn’t your job to teach your team members about politics, but it is your job to teach them how to talk about tough issues,” says Gregory. Even in a poisonous political atmosphere, she believes it’s possible for people from opposite sides of the spectrum to have “positive, productive, and relationship-enhancing conversations.” Some ground rules are necessary, says Opie. “You don’t want employees to feel unsafe discussing certain topics.” As the manager you need to:
- Emphasize respect. “In functioning teams, there’s a baseline level of respect, but in high-charged conversations, people can sometimes lose sight of that,” says Gregory. As the manager, be proactive in maintaining courteous and considerate interactions, says Opie. Don’t tolerate name calling or interruptions. Keep an eye on flickering tempers. And be prepared to act if conversations cross the line between healthy debate to bitter acrimony.
- Promote self-reflection. Many discussions about political issues can go wrong because “we don’t bother trying to understand each other,” says Gregory. “We end up being more interested in proving the other person wrong than listening.” As the team leader, help your team members move past this inclination, says Opie. Inspire them to seek common ground. “Ask, ‘What do you find attractive about the other side’s position or argument? And what concerns you about your argument?’” Your aim, she says, is to “try to find some wiggle room.”
- Seek to understand. “Our political values are shaped by our life experiences,” says Gregory. In order for these conversations to be as constructive as possible, you and your team members must “seek to understand others’ experiences and what led them to their beliefs,” she says. Encourage vulnerability by asking your colleagues to “humanize the people they disagree with.” These conversations can sometimes be messy and uncomfortable, but they also often result in moments of enlightenment.
Call out inappropriate comments.
One of the biggest challenges arises when someone makes an insensitive remark or says something antithetical to the values of your team culture and organization, says Opie. Whatever you do, don’t ignore it. As the leader, “speak up and take a stand,” she says. Gregory concurs. You need to “signal to the group that the comment was inappropriate,” and follow up individually with the person who said it so you don’t give tacit permission for people to speak that way. While it may sound harsh, it’s important you make clear that what they said was offensive and hurtful. Gregory suggests talking to the employee in private and saying something like, “Our organization values diversity and inclusion, and we are going to promote and develop people in alignment with those values. Your comments [about a certain political topic] makes me question whether you have the competencies needed for growth in this organization.”
Talk one on one.
Managers also need to be thoughtful about how the volatile political climate is affecting their employees — particularly on teams where political allegiances vary. The Covid era has made work a lonely place, says Opie. And if you’re in the political minority, the experience is all the more isolating. “If your colleague is feeling upset about the [decision by a grand jury not to charge any police officers with killing Breonna Taylor] and no one brings it up, she might feel ignored. She might wonder, ‘Does anyone care? Do they understand?’ As a manager, you need to bridge that gap,” she says. Focus on connecting with and caring for your employees. Opie suggests you ask, “How can I help you feel heard?” Your goal is to reach out and demonstrate that you “recognize your employees as human beings.”
Foster open-mindedness in your team…
“We are living in self-reinforcing echo chambers,” says Gregory, where we often imagine that others see the world precisely as we do. As a result, many of us make incorrect assumptions about others’ political leanings. The risk is that we end up alienating people because they hold a different view. You need to nurture open-mindedness and urge your team not to jump to conclusions. Remind colleagues that working side-by-side with someone who sees things differently can often be a boon to personal growth. “When we start to disengage with people — when we say, ‘I choose not to have relationships with people who believe X’ — we forego the opportunity to learn about how other people think and to influence them,” says Gregory.
… and hold yourself to the same standard.
Talking about your political views with a team member is complicated by the power dynamic: You’re their boss. Opie recommends “treading carefully.” In the case where a direct report doesn’t share your political inclinations, you mustn’t abuse your position by holding their views against them even on a subconscious level. “You don’t want them to feel that they’re going to be negatively evaluated” due to your different stances, she says. Try to keep an open mind, adds Gregory. “Acknowledge that other people can have different viewpoints” and still be decent human beings, she says. “If you can’t see shades of gray, you’re going to have a hard time being a manager.”
Seek outside advice.
It’s not easy to “develop and maintain a cohesive workplace” amidst a hyper-partisan political atmosphere, says Opie. There’s no shame in asking for help. She recommends “connecting with other leaders and managers to learn about how they’re handling these heated situations.” They may offer advice, insight, and ideas that hadn’t occurred to you. Even after Nov. 3, the challenges of running a team with divergent views are likely to remain. “Regardless of who wins, organizations need to think about how they are proactively developing guidelines and discussions for how employees debrief” and process the election, Opie says. “In this charged climate, it will be necessary.”
Principles to Remember
- Be a good role model. Embrace inclusivity, demonstrate respect for divergent views, and be willing to challenge your assumptions.
- Encourage your team members to seek to understand others’ experiences and what lead them to their political beliefs.
- Tread carefully with direct reports whose politics differ from yours. You don’t want them to feel that they’re going to be negatively evaluated due to your differing stances.
- Ban political conversations. It’s impractical and counterproductive.
- Shy away from calling out inappropriate remarks. Otherwise you have given tacit permission for people to speak in insensitive ways.
- Lose sight of how this politically turbulent period is affecting your employees as people. Focus on connection. Ask, how can I help you feel heard?
Advice in Practice
Case Study #1: Establish ground rules for discussion; be open to others’ perspectives.
Over the course of her 25-year career, Susy Dunn has managed a number of teams that had divergent political views. For the most part, her employees have learned to agree to disagree.
“In the end, it’s all about handling conflict with respect and empathy,” says Susy, the chief people officer & chief of staff at Zapproved, which makes software for corporate legal departments. “It’s about how you step outside yourself to think about others.”
A recent experience stays with her. In 2018, Susy’s team — which is in charge of the company’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts — organized an event on racism and classism, at which Ijeoma Oluo, the author of the book, So, You Want to Talk about Race, spoke to employees. Many workers were enthralled and energized by the book’s ideas; they began sharing articles on white privilege and organizing discussion groups.
This year, as the Black Lives Matter movement and issues surrounding systemic racism became a focal point in the national dialogue, internal conversations around privilege started again. Some colleagues bristled. “Some stepped forward and said they felt uncomfortable and excluded,” says Susy. “They said they were being made to feel ashamed because they were white.”
Together with the company’s CEO, Susy met with employees to listen to their perspectives. “Our purpose was to bring people together and to create a safe space to have a difficult conversation.”
Susy’s team laid out the ground rules in line with the company’s values: Assume good intent, listen with empathy and curiosity, show respect, and be thoughtful. If things got heated, they would pause and regroup for another time.
Employees told personal stories about their lives and explained their perspectives. People were open and honest.
When it came time for the CEO and Susy to speak, their message was clear and unapologetic: “If we are going to be asked to prioritize between the comfort of the dominant group over the justice of a marginalized group, we will select the justice of the marginalized group.”
It was an “aha moment” for everyone, she says. “People got it.”
But Susy also says she recognizes that those who felt uncomfortable had a point, too. “They said they wanted to tune out politics and focus on their work,” she says. “We realize that people need to be able to opt in to certain conversations.”
To that end, they created Slack channels dedicated to diversity and equity content. But employees who don’t want to be a part of the dialogue, doing have to join in.
Susy says she is proud of how the team came together. “It was a tough but constructive conversation.”
Case Study #2: Check in with employees one on one and don’t make assumptions about how they lean.
Aimee Pedretti, a senior manager at Mammoth HR, vividly recalls how the results of the 2016 presidential election played out in her office.
“The morning after, you could feel the tension,” she says. “Some people were upset and crying, and there were others who, even if they were not expressing jubilation, it was clear they were satisfied with the outcome.”
For Aimee, the experience was eye-opening. While she hadn’t necessarily talked politics with each and every one of her colleagues, she had assumed that most people at her company, headquartered in Portland, OR, held similar political values. “I realized the importance of not making assumptions about people’s opinions,” she says. “Not everyone shared the same political beliefs.”
She remembers taking solace from the company’s leadership. “Things were heated, and emotions were running high — similar to what’s happening today,” she says. “When I think back on those days, I remember messaging from our CEO. He acknowledged that it was pivotal moment for all Americans. It was comforting to feel that management cared about how the election was affecting us.”
The CEO also reminded the team of its company values regarding equality and inclusion. “That really helped level-set us and bring us back to reality: Even if we didn’t all see eye-to-eye on politics, we were all committed to the same purpose and organizational principles.”
Today, amidst another turbulent political season, that lesson has served her well. Aimee says she is “focused on her team’s wellbeing,” and regularly checks in with employees one-on-one to make sure they’re coping alright.
“Things are so divisive right now outside of work,” she says. “As a leader, it’s important to acknowledge there is a lot of fear and distress about the election regardless of which political party you belong to.”
She says she’s also more sensitive about the way she engages with colleagues in conversations about politics — and no longer makes assumptions about how they lean. She tries to lead by example: She demonstrates respect for others’ opinions and an openness to different perspectives. “Managers need to make sure their people feel safe and respected,” she says. “No one should have to stifle who they are.”
Recently, Aimee gathered that she holds very different views from some of her colleagues. “In these cases, it’s important to separate the person from their political positions,” she says. “Managers need to be transparent about how they’re assigning work, how they’re promoting people, and how they’re treating people.”
Sometimes, she says, it’s easier to engage on neutral topics like pets and hobbies. “There’s no need to force a political conversation.”
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