King and unkeen countryby / August 15, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in September 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
Charles will not have to stand for election to become Britain’s next head of state—and that is just as well, according to an exclusive ICM Unlimited poll for Prospect. It finds that fewer people than ever before now want the heir to the throne to take it up.
When asked what they want to happen on the Queen’s death, only 38 per cent want to see her oldest son inherit the Crown, in keeping with the law and 1,000 years of Royal history—that’s the lowest ever figure recorded. Considerably more voters, 46 per cent, would rather see the monarchy skip a generation and pass straight to William. There is also a substantial minority (16 per cent) who decline to back either Charles or William—double the number from a decade ago when ICM first asked the question.
The potential divisiveness of having Charles on the throne was reaffirmed when voters were asked to imagine the reality, and think about what it would do to their support for the institution of the monarchy. A clear majority (69 per cent) said it would make no difference. But although 7 per cent said they would think about the monarchy more positively than they do now, three times as many respondents—21 per cent—said their attitude to the Crown would be negatively affected.
In a forced choice, the country is split down the middle on the question of “whether, all things considered, you want Charles to become king in due course”—40 per cent say “Yes,” and 38 per cent “No.” While Royalists may be relieved that the Carolinians just edge it on this measure, this ambivalence stands in total contrast to the warm public affection that Elizabeth enjoys in the twilight of her reign. ICM, like many pollsters, doesn’t ask with any regularity whether the public approves of the way the Queen is doing her job, because the answer is so predictable—in a world where more people ordinarily disapprove than approve of all the leading politicians, one survey in 2006 had her chalking up a net positive of 78 percentage points.
Martin Boon, Director at ICM Unlimited, said: “Obviously nobody can really know how Charles will actually perform as king just yet. What these figures indicate, however, is that the country may not be in a forgiving mood if there were to be any serious slips—he starts without the huge legacy of goodwill that his mother has built up over the decades.”
The sense of a reign that could run into trouble is only reinforced by digging into the detail of the data. While Charles enjoys narrow majority support among the oldest voters—with 51 per cent of those aged 65 and over backing him against the jump to William—this falls to just 18 per cent among the youngest voters, aged 18 to 24. Even among 25-34 year olds, he commands the support of barely one in four respondents on this question—just 27 per cent.
Boon commented: “there is an extremely steep age-gradient in support for Charles. It might be comforting him to imagine that the hostility to him among youngsters is something that they will grow out of… But it could be that we are seeing a real ‘cohort effect,’ where people born in much younger generations than Charles himself are not and never will be comfortable with him being their head of state. If that is the case, this is a problem that is only going to get worse.”
Since allegedly flirting with joining Cambridge Labour club as a student, Charles’s reputation has tended to drift to the right. While often attracting controversy, he has at least generally managed to avoid being a partisan figure. The poll shows that he continues to divide opinion across the spectrum—support for him to inherit rather than William runs at 40 per cent among Remainers, and 41 per cent among Leavers. But when it comes to party preference, his support is now notably less marked among Labour backers, 33 per cent rather than 48 per cent among Conservatives. With Labour’s support heavily dependent on the Charles-sceptical younger generations, the poll bears out the possibility—which is stressed by Emily Andrews—of the Crown becoming an issue in party politics under King Charles.