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The Royal Family doesn’t ‘do politics’ – so why is it stepping back during an election campaign?

The King had one of the most famous TV personalities round for a chat at Buckingham Palace when 10 Downing Street got in touch to say the PM really needed to see him.

Charles III is only just back to public facing engagements after beginning cancer treatment and he is said to be keen to pack in the meetings to highlight causes close to his heart after several quiet months. But as His Majesty hosted a reception for the Prince’s Trust on the afternoon of May 22nd , he had to juggle this passion with constitutional matters. When a PM wants an election, not even Dec (Ant was helping look after his brand new baby son) can come between a king and his duty.

In the hours afterwards, as the country debated whether the PM standing in torrential rain to tell us all we’re headed to the ballot box wasn’t just a bit too peak British, King Charles had another dilemma. Buckingham Palace quickly put out a statement to say that now the election campaign was under way, the Royal Family would have to cut some planned engagements for protocol reasons. The King cancelled a visit to Crewe while his heir, Prince William, also shelved planned engagements with immediate effect.

It raised a few eyebrows. After all, The King and his family are famously meant to be politically neutral and surely them heading off on engagements is nothing to do with politics? But the changing nature of royal life in recent years means that this campaign actually does raise some big questions and possible pitfalls.

In the new Carolean age, the Royal Family has put an increased focus on highlighting social issues. In fact, in his first speech as King, Charles III expressed his hopes that his heir, the Prince of Wales, would focus on work with ‘’the most marginalised’’. In an election campaign where the cost of living, housing issues and the health service will be paramount, there is an increasing crossover between what politicians talk about and where royals go.

In the last few weeks, Prince William has heard about the demands on hospitals serving several communities spread across large areas and visited a project to build more affordable homes. Queen Camilla has focused on support for victims of sexual abuse while King Charles has heard about treatment for fellow cancer patients.

It’s easy to see how a visit to a food bank or to a social housing project or even to a hospital could be construed as a political statement when everything is about the political future of the country. Every word and movement of the Royal Family on such an outing would be analysed and debated. It’s perhaps better to stay away than cause any contention.

How far reaching this reconsideration of royal engagements will be is also a matter of debate. The King, The Queen and the Prince of Wales are one thing but will the often unseen work of royals including the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh and the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester also be impacted?

And who is going to tell the workaholic Princess Royal that the next six weeks might include more gardening leave than she is used to?

This decision to scale back while the campaign goes on could impact dozens of events and The King and Queen have already expressed their regret at missing engagements that have been planned for months. But while Charles III technically had to give the go ahead for parliament to be dissolved so that the general election can take place, in reality, he acts on the advice of his Prime Minister. In this instance, royal plans play second fiddle to political demands.

The Royal Family does have some big, set piece events taking place in June that are more about pomp and ceremony than politics. Trooping the Colour, or the Sovereign’s Birthday Parade, is on June 15th and although leading politicians would often attend, the ceremonial itself is a neutral event and will continue without any representation from any party involved in the campaign. Royal Ascot, too, looks like a relatively harmless chance to get out and about although the Windsors might find the royal box at Wimbledon slightly emptier this year as the first days of the Championship co-incide with the final throes of the election campaign so no politician with their eye on a win will be taking up the offer of a day out at the tennis.

But there is no doubt the royal diary will be trimmed in the six weeks to come. Work with causes can continue behind the scenes but if Queen Elizabeth II famously said she had to be seen to be believed, then the Royal Family will have to be taken on trust on some big issues in the weeks to come.

It’s been a strange year for the royals and one that promises to produce more surprises before a return to a more usual pattern of engagements. The King has his constitutional duties to attend to and will continue with those, as he has throughout the year, while the State Opening of Parliament is scheduled for July 17th 2024, co-incidentally the 77th birthday of Queen Camilla. But the front and centre work, so often focused now on social issues, must take a back seat to the pressure of politics for the time being. It’s a reminder of the real role of a king in a constitutional monarchy where the will of the people must come first and not even Ant and Dec can stop the march of the political machine.

About author

Lydia Starbuck is Jubilee and Associate Editor at Royal Central and the main producer and presenter of the Royal Central Podcast and Royal Central Extra. Lydia is also a pen name of June Woolerton who is a journalist and writer with over twenty years experience in TV, radio, print and online. Her latest book, A History of British Royal Jubilees, is out now. Her new book, The Mysterious Death of Katherine Parr, will be published in March 2024. June is an award winning reporter, producer and editor. She's appeared on outlets including BBC 5 Live, BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Local Radio and has also helped set up a commercial radio station. June is also an accomplished writer with a wide range of material published online and in print. She is the author of two novels, published as e-books. She is also a marriage registrar and ceremony celebrant.