– or how social elites maintain power by avoiding publicity
By Dr Sean Carey
The big romance is over and the mass media thinks it knows why. Pippa Middleton rose to national and international fame when she was maid of honour earlier this year as her older sister married Prince William, second in line to the British throne.
She is reported to have been “dumped” by her long-standing boyfriend. A few days ago, press reports suggested that it was Pippa who had called time on the relationship with Alex Loudon, the 31-year-old former captain of England’s Under-19 cricket team turned corporate financier.
Now, it appears that it was the Old Etonian who tired of the pandemonium that attended the couple’s public appearances. “The plain truth is Alex adored Pippa but he couldn’t stand the circus that now surrounds her,” an unnamed friend of Loudon’s told a Mail on Sunday reporter. “Nothing is straightforward anymore.” But there is a further twist. One of Pippa’s friends disclosed that Loudon’s parents did not see the 27-year-old party planner as “wife material.”
The split has set up a feeding frenzy of speculation in the U.K. and international media. “Pippa Middleton lovers of the world, rejoice! The Duchess of Cambridge’s younger sis is reportedly back on the market,” shouts the headline in msnbc.com. “The Duchess of Cambridge’s foxy little sister was the world’s most sought after woman even when she had a boyfriend,” declares an article in the Daily Mail before revealing that Justin Timberlake, is among Pippa’s legion of admirers. “We American males love Pippa,” gushed the U.S. pop and movie star.
“Could flirty Prince Harry be in with a shot at the other Middleton girl?” asks Newsweek. We shall soon find out.
For what it’s worth, my guess is that the chances of happy, freewheeling bachelor, Harry, third in line of succession to the throne, dating his older brother’s sister-in-law are close to zero. Even if attracted to one another, surefooted Buckingham Palace officials will have already warned off the pair from doing anything that might jeopardize the British monarchy which, after a rocky period, when its popularity seemed to be on a permanent downward trajectory, has been reinvigorated by the global appeal of the newlywed Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
We have been here before. In 2007, Prince William “dumped” Kate Middleton before they got back together and decided to tie the knot at Westminster Abbey. But with Pippa and Alex, chances of reconciliation before a fairytale wedding seem to this anthropological observer to be very slim indeed.
Why? The reason lies not, as the many headlines suggest, in Alex Loudon’s personality or psychological profile. He is variously described as “quiet” and “reserved.” But rather because of his membership in the British upper, upper class who tend to live on relatively isolated estates in the Home Counties. True to the stereotype, Alex’s parents live at Olantigh Towers near the Kent village of Wye.
A key cultural characteristic of the British aristocracy is understatement. Although members of this group nearly always maintain reciprocal links with a local population through charitable works and “open days,” they also strongly adhere to a value which is the antithesis of a global celebrity culture in which middle class Pippa is now deeply immersed.
British aristocrats have a degree of social visibility and interaction with subordinate social groups, but it is highly ritualised. In this way, their reputation is controlled and protected.
The British aristocracy is not unique in its rejection of ostentatious social display. While some social and political elites feel confident enough to flaunt their wealth because it is perceived to enhance status, others deliberately under-communicate it for fear of the trouble it might cause.
In Mauritius the Franco-Mauritians known locally as “les grands blancs,” make up less than 2 per cent of the 1.3 million population. As a legacy of colonialism, they remain in control of most of the important sectors of the Indian Ocean island’s near $10 billion economy such as sugar and associated agro-businesses, tourism, the export processing zone (EPZ), and commercial services.
Members of this group typically avoid attracting attention. They do not run for political office, which would raise their public profile and flag up their commercial interests, or drive big, expensive cars, which would increase their visibility on the streets.
The reason is not hard to fathom. The best strategy for any minority group, which maintains a considerable economic surplus and which is keen to retain its high position relative to other groups in socially complex societies is for its members and associates to operate as anonymously as possible. Other options of course include direct intimidation or violence.
Back to Pippa. The real reason why global celebrity Pippa Middleton is back on the market is because she is a global celebrity.
* * *
India’s consumer society might have to wait
Last Friday it looked like US and European supermarket chains like Wal-Mart, Tesco and Carrefour would soon be allowed to enter the $396 billion retail market in India. The fast-growing country, Asia’s third-largest economy after China and Japan, has a population of 1.2 billion, which makes it the world’s second most populous nation.
The Indian retail market is expanding at an unprecedented rate and is expected to more than double in size to $796 billion (£514 billion) by 2015 as Western-style consumerism gains momentum.
The current market is largely controlled by a small family-owned stores, street vendors and hawkers. But under ever-increasing political pressure as economic growth slows, the Indian government led by Cambridge-educated economist Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, hoped that opening up the retail market to competition would reduce food price inflation as well as indicating that the country welcomed more foreign direct investment.
The Indian Cabinet’s decision, which did not require parliamentary approval, signalled that it would not be a free ride for foreign companies. In return for a 51 percent stake in “multi-brand retailers” and 100 percent ownership of “single-brand stores” like Nike they would be expected contribute to the country’s infrastructure, and source at least 30 per cent of supplies from small and medium-sized Indian companies. Another condition highlighted in the proposal was that foreign companies would only be able to open stores in cities of more than 1 million people that have an “organised retail sector.”
UK retail giant Tesco said the announcement was good news but that it was awaiting “further details on any conditions” before making any move.
Concerns about the impact of the initiative on the traditional retail system were quick to appear, however. An editorial in the Financial Times last weekend said: “A consolidated retail sector would require consolidated agriculture to supply it. Such changes could cost millions of Indians their livelihoods. With no functioning welfare system that is a serious worry.”
On Monday, two coalition allies of the Congress party, which governs with a slender parliamentary majority, announced that they could not back the proposed change in policy towards the retail sector. One ally, M. Karunanidhi, leader of the Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam party in the southern state of Tamil Nadu said: “It is dangerous to allow foreign direct investment in retail trade as it will affect hundreds of thousands of small traders as well as the poor and middle-class consumers. It will also be a cause for economic decline for our country.”
On the same day, hundreds protested at the prospect of international retail giants arriving in their country outside a Carrefour wholesale outlet in the northern city of Jaipur.
On Tuesday, after Parliament was adjourned for the third day as the BJP opposition and its allies demanded that the initiative should be abandoned, the Prime Minister used the platform of the Youth Congress party convention in New Delhi to defend his plans. “We have not taken this decision in haste, but after a lot of consideration,” he said. “It is our firm conviction that the decision will benefit the country.”
The Hindu reported that the Prime Minister has offered an olive branch to state governments: “State governments that are not convinced of its usefulness have the means to prevent foreign participation in retail businesses in their States.”
Commentators think that the most likely option is that the Prime Minister will refer the initiative to a ministerial committee, “a traditional way of Congress kicking problems into the grass.”
The lesson? It is surely that in the world’s largest democracy it is not a good idea to force through measures which have not been debated and do not command popular support. This is a pity since some reform of the retail market in India is urgently needed as it is estimated that around 40 percent of food and vegetables rot before they come to market.
A version of this article has also appeared on anthropologyworks.com
Dr Sean Carey is research fellow at Cronem and visiting lecturer in the Business School, University of Roehampton
* Published in print edition on 2 December 2011