Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Soft power and royalty

The UK seems adept at exercising soft power with its royal assets. What soft power assets do other countries have?

Crown jewel: the soft power of William and Kate’s Nordic visit
From the colourful cobbled squares of Stockholm to the snowy enchantment of Holmenkollen hill, Oslo, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s visit to both countries... will deliver myriad photo-ops to saturate local media.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge
The royal couple will also deliver, the Foreign Office hopes, a clear message: Britain may be leaving the EU, but we are still part of Europe.

Ever since Henry VIII invited Francis I of France to the jousting and feasting extravaganza at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, the so-called “soft power” of the royals has been harnessed as a diplomatic resource…

Royal overseas visits are decided by the FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office], with schedules drawn up by the British ambassador to the host country, who accompanies the royal visitor throughout. Since the vote for Brexit the Cambridges have been dispatched to France, Poland and Germany, Prince Harry has travelled to Denmark, the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall have visited Romania, Italy and Austria, and Kate has undertaken a solo trip to the Netherlands…

An intimate black-tie bash for up to 30 guests in Stockholm, hosted by the British ambassador, will yield photographs of hereditary royalty alongside the Hollywood variety. The Swedish actors Alicia Vikander, star of Testament of Youth, and Stellan Skarsgård, TV’s River whose numerous films include Good Will Hunting and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, are invited…

Superficially, it seem these visits are all about the pictures. “And they are important,” said David McClure, the author of Royal Legacy and the forthcoming The Queen’s True Worth. Soft power, however, is “relational”, he said. It cannot hinge on “two youngish good-looking royals”. Norway and Sweden have their own monarchies…

The business and strategy consultants Brand Finance estimated that the monarchy would bring the UK £42bn in “intangible” economic benefits from tourism, trade, charities and media. “Members of the royal family can also proactively encourage trade by acting as ambassadors for the UK during their international visits,” it reported. Royal patronage or a visit are “extremely helpful to push big deals over the line”, said David Haigh, the CEO of the consultancy.

The former prime minister David Cameron once described the UK as “the soft power superpower”, while the government told a 2014 House of Lords select committee the monarchy was “a unique soft power and diplomatic asset”…

Not all share the FCO’s steadfast belief in royalty’s soft power. “Visits abroad by the royal family may raise the profile locally of the UK,” said Gary Rawnsley, a professor of public diplomacy at Aberystwyth University who has researched soft power. However, research showed that “this does not necessarily convert into affection for the UK – its values or its policies. Neither do such visits change opinion about or behaviour towards the UK, especially when relations at government level are fraught.

“Audiences can have high levels of positive opinion about the royals, but a low opinion of the British government and the way it behaves at home and abroad,” Rawnsley said…

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