Down With The Royals, Up With Democracy

Pandas and royal persons alike are expensive to conserve and ill-adapted to any modern environment.

This comparison of British royals to zoological specimens by novelist Hilary Mantel is but one of many ideas presented in Joan Smith’s book, Down With The Royals.

Down With The Royals by Joan Smith Biteback Publishing, 120 pp.

Down With The Royals
by Joan Smith
Biteback Publishing, 120 pp.

In three parts, Smith dissects the arguments for maintaining the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the arguments in favor of moving towards a republic.

A public debate on the issue is nearly impossible as the media exaggerates the royal family’s popularity. There are royal correspondents who spend their entire day finding the smallest detail to report on TV and in the press; this is also at the expense of important global affairs. On the other hand, contrasting views are belittled. When the organisation Republic holds a rally, attendance is restricting and under-reported in the news.

Fundamentally, a hereditary monarchy, Smith points out, is undemocratic, expensive and unaccountable.

Long ago, King George III made a deal with the government after racking up huge debt. The royal family would receive a fixed annual salary and have their debts removed, in exchange for handing over the rents from their crown land to government. Today, this results in the royal family receiving an salary of £40 million each year. The revenue from crown land is around £200 million. So, it seems like the Parliament is making a profit.

However, the true costs are hidden. “One significant element that doesn’t appear in the official estimates is the cost of providing security for numerous members of the British royal family, along with the bill for royal visits.” The cost of royal security is estimated at £100 million. Adding other costs, the actual cost of maintaining the royals is closer to £300 million. Equally important is the fact that the royal family doesn’t publish full accounts and leaves out the most expensive elements, like security. This royals are costing taxpayers tens of millions of pounds each year, far more than any of the other remaining royal families left in the world, such as Sweden or Denmark.

The royal family isn’t a good caretaker either, allowing important heritage properties fall into disrepair. Almost 40 percent of the royal estate’s building were not in an ‘acceptable’ condition in 2012, according to the House of Commons public accounts committee.

But what about tourism, defenders of the monarchy may shout. This is another myth that royalists spread.

Smith shows that rates of tourism have no connection to Royal events like weddings or births. In fact, the evidence points to a decline in tourism during years of major events. This makes sense when you think about it. How many Europeans and international tourists plan their vacations to coincide with the one or two days a year when the royal family is out in public celebrating a wedding or birth. Tourism, like in France and the US, does not rely on having a king or queen living in a royal palace when you arrive.

The final claim by royalists that Smith dissolves is that the Queen and her family remain neutral when it comes to ruling the country and influences government. This is another myth to be undone.

From supporting Fascist Germany to Apartheid South Africa in the past to repressive regimes in Saudi Arabia and Qatar today, the royal family has a long history of supporting regimes for their own self interest. Their partisan views have been spun by the media out of public debate, but friends of the royals have confirmed that they are ‘natural-born Tories’.

The Queen as head of state holds and uses the power of veto over government legislation. Whitehall papers show that overall at least 39 bills have been subject to this process, known as “Queen’s consent” or “Prince’s consent”. We don’t know how many bills have been amended or vetoed altogether before reaching Parliament. Prince Charles, heir to the throne, is known for his meetings with high-ranking government officials and memos; all of which are kept secret and away from public scrutiny.

Queen Elizabeth II is also the Head of the Commonwealth, an organisation with a combined population of 2.1 billion people, yet her role is neither elected nor subject to a fixed term. 16 nations, including my own (Canada), count Queen Elizabeth as their head of state. This relic of the British empire and its colonies and territories is entirely at odds with current notions of democracy and human rights. The export of parliamentary democracy and common law to these nations and others continues to face outdated problems, such as ‘first past the post’ voting and anti-homosexuality legislation. How can one family and one person have so much power, in perpetuity?

In every area of modern society, the royal family is long overdue for a replacement. They are a drain on taxpayers money. They have ruled for over 1,000 years without any say from the people. They ally themselves with repressive regimes and influence British legislation. And they use the media as a shield against public debate and any means of accountability. On every issue, the royalists are living a fairy tale.

God save the Queen? Hardly, as Smith concludes:

In the twenty-first century, we shouldn’t still be imploring an imaginary deity to save an inherited head of state. If we can only find the courage, we are perfectly capable of saving ourselves.

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