“Even the power of faith, which frequently inspires great generosity and self-sacrifice, can fall victim to tribalism.” This was probably as close as Queen Elizabeth II got to mentioning poverty in her Christmas message. Yet, this was not clear in critical interpretation which was made within an uncertain socio-economic context, one of growing poverty and homelessness. The traditional backlash on social media voiced that the Queen was “out of touch” with her people, notably criticising the golden piano behind her. A rather humorous tweet read:
I liked the bit where she was sitting on a gold chair in a gold room with her gold fire guard and gold clock in front of a gold mirror beside the gold piano writing with her gold pen next to the gold picture frame wearing her gold bracelet talking about poverty #QueensSpeech pic.twitter.com/gnKiW9Vz8Q— 𝕄𝕒𝕣𝕥𝕚𝕟 (@Tech_FTW) 25 December 2018
It is certainly true that this year many struggled to afford Christmas, with the Universal Credit System hurting Britain’s poorest. Strong public attention on homelessness issues further clashed with news of the Queen’s 16% pay rise and the £369 million renovation bill of Buckingham Palace.
On Twitter, critics loosely associated the two, somewhat confusing the monarchy’s role. One observer wrote the Queen should have announced the dissolution of Parliament; another said, “unless the queen is to announce that she’ll be selling her millions of pounds of personal jewels and gifts in order to house her rough sleeping subjects instantly, I’ll be giving it a miss today.”
These reactions tell us more about popular struggle than they do about a royal disconnection. There is an expectation that the Royal Family reflect the country: back in 1997, at Lady Diana’s death, it was heavily criticised for its rigid adherence to protocol, which was then interpreted as a lack of compassion, and ultimately a failure to reflect the country’s pain. It is easily understandable, therefore, that UK taxpayers would question the legitimacy of the Queen’s opulence; perhaps the golden and luxurious setting of this year’s Christmas message was not the most appropriate.
However, it remains that this year’s message was not about poverty, but about unity and solidarity. The Queen elaborated on cooperation between the Commonwealth’s 53 countries, referring to the Commonwealth Games as having an “emphasis on goodwill and mutual respect”. She called on the British people to put aside their “most deeply held differences”, which undoubtedly resonated in the context of Brexit. Importantly, the Queen spoke as head of the Church, and as such, delivered a message of peace and altruism, which she described were “needed as much as ever”.
It is therefore important to focus on the content of the message alongside its purpose and role, rather than on furniture layout. While finances constitute a separate debate, the constitutional nature of the Monarchy forbids it from politically addressing social issues, and as such, should not receive criticism for them.