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The Duke and Duchess of Sussex and The Princely Practicalities of Public Service

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Benjamin Deitchman
January 26, 2020

The decision for most of us in government employment to vacate our positions and responsibilities in pursuit of a private role would not interrupt news of an escalating geopolitical conflict. Transitioning from the public sector into corporate, nonprofit or advocacy endeavors and finding a new opportunity to benefit from the connections, competencies and experiences of public service is a common practice. When the career change involves the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, however, the literal palace intrigue and unprecedented nature of senior royals seeking a new pathway on a new continent results in implications that are far reaching and fodder for dialogue about world affairs.

As with most pundits speculating on recent royal events, I do not have any further information beyond the statements and media leaks that drive coverage of these imbroglios. In the past I have been on the same social circuit as the Royal Family (I studied abroad at the University of St. Andrews at the same time as Prince William and Catherine Middleton were matriculated students, once enjoying an evening in the same pub as the Prince and attending a student ball at which both were present) and worked as a part of Her Majesty’s diplomatic service (I was an intern for the British Council USA at the British Embassy in Washington, DC for six months), so I am nearly as qualified as almost anyone who also has watched all three seasons of The Crown on Netflix to provide commentary on the surprising announcements out of the royal households. The move is particularly notable in the context of the contemporary policy environment and modern public administration in the rapidly evolving transatlantic sphere.

The Sussexes were obviously not civil servants assisting in running the trains on time or other bureaucratic functions, but they provided a legitimizing governmental function of the constitutional monarchy, for which they earned compensation. It is perhaps especially surprising to see Prince Harry step out of this role as his commitment to public service, exemplified by his devotion as a member of the armed forces, is noteworthy. Government does not have a monopoly on benefiting the greater public and, as such, the Sussexes may believe that in proceeding beyond the constraints of their positions they could find entrepreneurial approaches to support wounded veterans and other socially beneficent causes near to their hearts. As with other mission-driven millennials, seeking solutions to the most vexing of societal challenges outside of established institutions is a model by which they may achieve the most good. It will be interesting to see where this approach of the Sussexes might succeed, fail and inspire.

The decision of the American and Briton to reside in Canada is also relevant to globalization and public policy. During her acting career the Duchess resided in Canada because the production of New York-set Suits benefited from the financial opportunities of filming north of the border. With the primary North American trade agreement undergoing changes and new scrutiny towards incentives and tax credits for film and television productions, policy wonks will want to observe how the competitive interstate, interprovincial and international policy and economics that originally brought a younger Meghan Markle to Canada may evolve. The Duke should easily adjust to Canadian cash as his grandmother, in her role as Queen of Canada, adorns the money. If ice hockey does not fulfill his sporting fandom, the Toronto Wolfpack are set to become the first Canadian rugby league team to play in the top division of the England-based Super League. In fact, sports provide an intriguing window into the contradictions of the modern United Kingdom. The English Premier League in soccer, with ownership and players from all over the world and a global television reach that even sometimes preempts Meet The Press in the United States, showcases cosmopolitanism and diversity from London to Burnley and beyond. It also exhibits some of the insularity and racism that has likely motivated the Duke and Duchess to want to raise their son, Archie, abroad. Furthering progress and inclusion while confronting persistent prejudice is an ongoing struggle for all of us in the Anglophone world.

The Megxit (as the Twitter hashtag goes) of the royals to Canada developed in a critical month for the Brexit of the United Kingdom from the European Union. Brexit already has significant impacts, altering the entire political landscape of the country and influencing the future of Europe. Megxit primarily impacts one family. While the statements of royals or Prime Ministers drive our news, it is the collective day-to-day activities of individuals and families that drive our society. In Love Actually, Karen (portrayed by Emma Thompson) states, “The trouble with being the Prime Minister’s sister is, it does put your life into rather harsh perspective. What did my brother do today? He stood up and fought for his country. And what did I do? I made a papier maché lobster head.” Prince Harry will likely never be King like his father, brother and nephew, but the proverbial lobster heads his family builds as nongovernmental celebrities and leaders will resonate globally.   

Author: Benjamin Deitchman is a public policy practitioner in Atlanta, Georgia. His book, Climate and Clean Energy Policy: State Institutions and Economic Implications, includes analysis of Anglo-American relations in the context of climate change policy and federalism. He is on Twitter @Deitchman. Dr. Deitchman’s email address is [email protected]

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