Back in October, I joined with 72 other women MPs from all political parties to send an open letter to the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle. The letter made it clear that as women in public life, we stood with her in calling out the persistent invasions of her privacy, the undue criticism and what we described as “colonial undertones”, which were used with increasing frequency in our national press.
Even then, it was clear that the press interest in her had long crossed the line of what was in the public interest, and we were moved to act when the documentary following Harry and Meghan’s visit to Africa, with their young son Archie, laid bare that the insatiable appetite of the press was inevitably taking its toll on the new parents.
Although our roles are very different to Meghan’s, as women in public life, we share in her sense of frustration that tearing women down has become all too easy. The language and tone used is becoming increasingly distasteful and often abusive. In the case of Meghan Markle, the fact that she is not British is often at the forefront of the narrative, and it’s been ugly.
The contrast between the headlines on stories relating to the Duchess of Cambridge and the Duchess of Sussex are stark and obvious and there can only be a limited number of reasons why this is.
The news this week that the royal couple are looking to do things differently, spending only part of their year in the UK and seeking to becoming financially independent from the royal coffers, can have come as a shock to absolutely no-one. The same old newspapers have of course printed their outrage, but I’m yet to meet a real person who is the mildest bit surprised, less bothered by it.
Elements of the press have hounded Meghan beyond anything which resembles reasonable.
Recent YouGov polls suggested that nearly half of Britons (46%) support the couple’s decision, compared to only 27% who oppose it. A survey conducted in August last year – two months before the letter from MPs and the Africa documentary – revealed that 44% of Britons said that the press’s treatment of Harry and Meghan is overly critical with only 23% believing it was fair.
The writing was on the wall that they felt the situation was intolerable, and the British public could see it. The 72 women MPs could see it. What the press hadn’t expected was that Harry and Meghan would change the playing field.
The various royal leaks and crisis-talks filling the front pages in recent days suggest that there has been a breakdown in communication within the royal family. I know nothing about what is going on and so had initially turned down any requests for comments on the grounds that I would only be engaging in speculation.
Yet, once again, it seems that there is a frenzy around the couple playing out in the papers, which bears no resemblance to the reality of how the public feel about it, and it needs calling out.
I don’t believe that in this day and age a woman who is successful in her own right, who marries the sixth-in-line to the throne, should be expected to stop working, become reliant on the taxpayer and cease overnight to have an opinion of her own. I’ve been pleased to see that the Queen agrees, effectively proposing a “transition agreement”.
Elements of the press have hounded Meghan beyond anything which resembles reasonable. They thought it was entirely within the rules to print what they liked about her and her family. I don’t think they imagined that the royal couple would resort to rewriting the rule book about what a Duchess can and cannot do, and it’s about time.
I wish Meghan, Harry and Archie all the very best with the next phase of their lives.
Holly Lynch is Labour MP for Halifax.