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by Rob Lyons
The monarchy should be abolished not because it costs a lot, but because it is a spent, Middle-Ages, anti-democratic institution.
‘These are difficult economic times, the government’s said we’re all in this together, and I think it would be inappropriate in these circumstances for the queen to be handed vast sums of additional money.’
British Labour MP Ian Davidson was reacting to a report in the Sunday Telegraph that Queen Elizabeth II wants an increase in the money that she receives from the state (the Civil List). Currently she receives £7.9million per annum to cover the cost of her state duties. That figure has been fixed for 20 years. However, in recent years the queen’s spending has outstripped her state benefits, and the shortfall has been made up from a surplus built up over the past decade. Now, even that reserve is becoming exhausted, say the queen’s staff, and she needs more cash.
The Civil List now only supports the queen and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, who receives over £300,000 per year to cover his expenses. Their children and extended family also get paid by the state for official duties, but they don’t receive an income from the Civil List anymore. In another change from the past, the queen must now pay income tax on her private income.
Yet however hard-up the queen claims to be, being an ex-royal is even worse. Just ask the queen’s former daughter-in-law, Sarah ‘Fergie’ Ferguson, who seems to have been reduced to offering access to her ex-husband Prince Andrew in exchange for a briefcase full of dollars. Still, at least when Fergie got ‘stung’ by the News of the World, she got to perform her mea culpa with Oprah, the queen of the world.
Back in ol’ Blighty, Elizabeth Windsor might be pleading royal poverty, but she is hardly short of a bob or two. Her private income from the Duchy of Lancaster was over £13million in 2008 and the Duchy holds investments and property worth well over £100million. She also gets to use all those marvellous houses: Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Sandringham, Balmoral. The state coughs up for her security, too, which must run into tens of millions of pounds per year. The queen may no longer be the richest woman in Britain (there are at least a dozen others who are wealthier, including Specsavers’ Mary Perkins and Harry Potter author JK Rowling), but she is still officially minted.
So, in these straitened times, surely campaigners are right to criticise the idea of giving even more of the country’s dosh to Her Maj? Indeed, some would argue that the royal family are an expensive luxury we can do without. All that filthy lucre from the various duchies could provide for much more useful things like schools and hospitals. On the other hand, supporters of the monarchy argue that it’s the royals who keep the tourists coming and that the country would be reduced to penury if we couldn’t fleece Japanese daytrippers trying to get their picture taken in front of Buck House.
This penny-pinching debate misses the point. Of course it is galling to have someone swan about in enormous houses or pootle around a huge Scottish estate, with her every need catered for by scores of servants, with no more justification than the fact that she is the first-born child of the bloke who did it before. But the danger is that if we reduce the question of the monarchy to various columns in an accountant’s ledger, we might find that the royal family actually brings in more cash to the country than we shell out to support them, and then what? Would that make having a monarchy justified? (It should be noted that the anti-monarchy campaign Republic argues persuasively that we could make a lot more cash from the royal residences if the toffs didn’t insist on living in them.)
Regardless of their contribution to, or drain upon, the nation’s finances, we should still get shot of the lot of them. The very existence of the monarchy is an affront to a modern, democratic society. Our head of state has been foisted on us, unelected, for almost 60 years. When the queen gives the royal wave to the waiting crowds, she might as well be giving the royal finger to the idea that we are all equal before the law and that someone’s station in life should be earned, not gifted.
The royals are not some glittery but meaningless bauble on the top of society. While it may be a very long time since a monarch exercised prerogative powers in his or her own right, it remains the case that prime ministers still must take a trip to The Palace to ask permission to dissolve parliament and wannabe prime ministers still require an ‘invitation’ from the queen to form a government, a farcical charade that was all-too-recently played out in dramatic circumstances on live TV after the General Election. And those prerogative powers allow prime ministers effectively to behave like monarchs, as they and their Cabinets bypass parliament on small matters such as declaring war.
Whether the corgis and Bess cost us a flippin’ fortune or not, I’d happily allow our heads of state to keep the castles, jewels and servants - just so long as we elect that head of state from amongst our own number.
Rob Lyons is deputy editor at spiked.
spiked editor Brendan O’Neill will be speaking at Republic’s annual conference this coming Saturday, 5 June, in central London. See the Republic website for more information.
Previously on spiked
Tim Black argued that New Labour’s justification for the Royal prerogative showed a distrust of the people. Brendan O’Neill looked at the barriers to a Republic of Britain, and explained why he was sick of Royale with sleaze stories. He also saw the abolition of the monarchy in Nepal as a great day for democracy. Neil Davenport warned of the return of the aristocrats. And Vicky Richardson explained why she heckled the Prince of Wales. Or read more at spiked issue British politics.
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