Great expectations

UK provides an example of balancing tradition and modernity, a relevant monarchy and innovation during times of austerity.

Prince William and Kate Middleton 311 (R) (photo credit: Reuters)
Prince William and Kate Middleton 311 (R)
(photo credit: Reuters)
News of a stork’s imminent arrival typically brings joy to the hearts of family and friends.  In a monarchy, when an heir to the throne announces that there is a royal bun in the oven, it gives the entire country reason to celebrate.
British newspapers and television programs were awash this week with happy reports that the Duchess of Cambridge, the international icon formerly known as Kate Middleton, is 12-weeks pregnant.  Congratulations soon flooded in from politicians, leaders, celebrities and the general public, both at home and abroad.  The official announcement was reluctantly made as Kate checked into hospital in connection with hyperemesis gravidarum, an especially troublesome morning sickness.  Only days early, Kate was photographed ably displaying her field hockey skills at her former school, gracefully taking an impromptu whack at the ball in high heels.
As Queen Elizabeth finishes her Jubilee year, the arrival of the 4th generation of monarch must be a pleasing end to these celebrations.  Britain’s monarchy has benefited immensely from the royal wedding in April 2011, which garnered unprecedented global attention, as well as a 2012 that included a highly success Jubilee weekend and an Olympics that brought a compelling and exciting view of the country and its unique history to the world.
Despite the many trappings and traditions surrounding the royal family that still survive into the 21st century, William and Kate have consistently sought to maintain a sense of normalcy in their lives.  It is unlikely that either William or Kate will indulge in the absentee parenting that was a feature of the royal family for generations.  As a result, many Britons expect to see the newest addition to the House of Windsor raised in a way that differs significantly from the childhood experiences of earlier generations of future monarchs.
In the past, royal children were overseen by nannies and governesses, at a considerable distance from their parents and other boys and girls their age.  It is notable that Prince Charles was the first British royal to be put through formal schooling, rather than being tutored in the palace.  William and Harry continued this trend by attending Eton, the pre-eminent British boarding school.
The monarchy has always been a mix of tradition and modernity, each re-invented regularly to fit the changing tastes and needs of the British nation.  As a result, the British monarchy has remained relevant in way that other have not.
The new baby will benefit from an important change in the British constitution that was worked out last year to modernize the lines of succession.  Regardless of whether William and Kate have a boy or a girl, that child will be third in line to the throne.  Under traditional rules, embodied in the Act of Settlement in 1701 a daughter was given a lower priority than a son, and a younger son would have priority over any older daughters.  At a meeting of the heads of governments of the Commonwealth that was held last year in Perth, Australia, Britain and the other 15 members (including Australia, Canada and New Zealand), all agreed that this ancient anomaly should be updated.
Gender discrimination has no place in the workplace, even Buckingham Palace!
Kate has been busy in recent weeks with royal engagements, which have kept her in the public eye.  Since assuming her position in “the firm”, she has thrown herself into the role of a modern British royal at a time when the eyes of the world have been on Britain.  Whether visiting museums or homeless shelters or foreign countries, Kate has ably assumed her duties, either alone or with William, when he can manage a break from his duties as a search-and-rescue helicopter pilot with the Royal Air Force.
As economic turmoil continues in Europe, families are hunkering down in “Austerity Britain.”  Many difficult decisions have been made in recent years by the coalition government, and meaningful growth and prosperity remain some years off in the future.  As politicians argue about the proper course to take, at least significant steps have been taken to recognize the budgetary problems that Britain faces as a result of a the global financial crisis.
Britons have had to get used to higher taxes and significant cuts in government spending, as Prime Minister David Cameron positions the country to withstand the economic forces destabilizing so many of Britain’s neighbors.  Tabloid campaigns against “tax cheats” have taken aim at high-profile celebrities, including actors and stand-up comedians, who make use of offshore service companies, as well as big name global corporations, such as Starbucks, Amazon and Google, who pay little to British tax authorities in terms of corporate tax.
As ordinary Britons tighten their belts, they have still managed to successfully put their country on display several times in the past two years.  As a result, they have earned invaluable fame and affection around the world.  For this, the British nation should be proud.
Much austerity still lies ahead for Britain, as economic projections are being recalibrated to reflect to continuing recession.  However, the announcement that the next heir to the throne may only be a few months away from making his or her appearance has given the country yet another reason to smile proudly once again, even in the face of continuing economic uncertainty.
The writer is a commentator who divides his time between the United Kingdom and Southern California. He has appeared on CNN, CNBC, BBC and Sky News, and has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Financial Times and The Economist.