A bicycling monarchy
Submitted by George Callaghan…
Britain’s monarchy is the most famous in the world. It is also the most outdated in Europe. As a passionate royalist I am obliged to say that an overhaul of the monarchy is long overdue.
If you want to see how to do anything well look at Scandinavia. The monarchies there exist on shoestring budgets. Yes, the royal families reside in palaces. But their privy purses are monarchies. When not performing official duties the Scandinavian crowned heads go around on the bus with members of the public. A Dane was asked who protects the king when he travels without bodyguards. ‘We all do!’ she said sweetly.
How much does the House of Windsor cost the British taxpayer? The amount is hard to calculate. The civil list is worth about GBP 50 000 000 year. But there is much much more. Palaces are repaired at public cost. Sovereign to sovereign inheritance is tax free. Moreover, royal estate are exempt from capital gains tax. Taken altogether the royal family costs the United Kingdom hundreds of millions of pounds per annum. I certainly want a monarchy but it does not need to cost and arm and a leg.
People on minimum wage are subsidizing one of the richest families in the realm. We are entitled to value for money. Walter Bagehot said that the monarchy should not ‘let too much daylight in on the magic’. Perhaps he was right in the 19th century. But the decision was taken decades ago to be very open. The House of Windsor cannot very well row back on that now.
Members of the royal house need be more judicious. His Royal Highness Prince Andrew the Duke of York was a confidante of Jeffrey Epstein. After Epstein was found guilty of consorting with 14 year old prostitutes the duke continued to stay at Epstein’s house. There is a certain honour in standing by your friend even when that is deeply unpopular. Mr Epstein committed a crime and was punished for it. So long as he was penitent and did not reoffend then remaining his friend might see decent. However, with the royal family it is never about you individually. You represent the United Kingdom and all other Commonwealth realms. The Duke of York showed a complete dearth of judgement in maintaining his amity with Jeffrey Epstein after Epstein was convicted of what most people consider to be the most opprobrious of crimes. As HRH remained close with J Epstein it calls into question the duke’s fitness to be a roving ambassador for British trade.
Prince Andrew has long been close to kleptocrats.
If you are a member of the royal family you enjoy some unparalleled privileges. You will be adulated and granted a grandiloquent title. You can seduce anyone. You are given money to live off. But this comes at a price. The price you pay is that you must refrain from controversial actions and accept intense press interest. If you are unwilling to accept this contract then you ought to renounce your title and all rights of inheritance.
Prince Harry and his wife have tried to have it both ways. They want the best of both worlds. They accept their titles, their millions of pounds and media that pants like a puppy over them. But they will not limit their actions to uncontroversial things. Nor will they allow the press in when they find it uncongenial. This simply will not do. If you are a prince or a princess then you do not get much of a private life. If you cannot stand the heat then get out of the kitchen.
The Prince of Wales has been in the public eye all his life. The title ‘Prince of Wales’ is given to the male heir apparent. Prince Charles has held this title for 50 years. That is longer than anyone else. As one of his forbears said ‘being Prince of Wales is not a title it is a predicament.’ Dee-dums! His Royal Highness is known for speaking his mind with uncourtly candour. Prince Charles has voiced his worries about the environment, his distaste for modern architecture and his opposition to comprehensive schools. HRH should not stray into the political arena. It is true he does not endorse a political party nor does he denounce any. But nevertheless the prince had taken sides in partisan political battles. He lives off millions of pounds from the taxpayer. The price he must pay for that is by keeping shtum on contentious questions of public policy. David Blunkett was Education Secretary under Labour. The prince had Blunkett come to meet him. At the meeting the royal essayed to persuade the socialist parliamentarian to reintroduce grammar schools. Blunkett courteously rebuffed this attempt. Blunkett said he did not object to the prince trying to convince him to change educational policy. ‘As Prince of Wales you either do something or you go mad’ said Blunkett. But as one Labour MP said – a royal family should be seen and not heard. The prince’s incessant interventions extended to the NHS. Public money was squandered on homeopathic quackery rather than spent on saving lives.
Gushing about the virtues of Islam brought attention to the prince in the 1990s. This was odd for a self-confessed adulterer. What is the penalty for adultery in Islam?
What gets my goat is the arrogance and hypocrisy of His Royal Highness. He made a name for himself in the 1990s by speaking out about the urgency of tackling climate change. I happen to agree with His Royal Highness entirely. But is it apposite for him to interfere in politics in such a manner? What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If you accept him intervening in politics in a way that you like then you must accept him intervening in a way that you dislike. It would hardly be acceptable if the prince entered the fray by saying that climate change is a hoax and we should burn fossil fuels with gay abandon.
Make no mistake about dealing with climate change. This is a noble cause. But if we are to deal with the issue then we have to live less well. We must drive fewer cars, smaller cars and drive less far. We must live in smaller houses and indeed more energy efficient houses. We have to fly less often and for shorter journeys. We should maximise energy efficiency on flights by flying on planes where every seat is taken. Has the prince made even the tiniest sacrifice? Not one bit of it. Sacrifices are for the peasants to make. He cannot resist a fashionable cause. But as soon as it requires him to curtail his billionaire lifestyle just a tiny bit – oh no that really is too much.
In 2004 the Prince of Wales was awarded the title ‘Global Environmental Citizen’. He flew to the United States to receive his trophy from Al Gore – the erstwhile Vice-President of the USA. Does anyone notice a contradiction here? The prince was heading a movement about not flying around the world. He then flew around the world get be crowned the king of not flying around the world. He also took several staff. Just to leave a bigger carbon footprint. It is nauseating to see him enter the lists for the green lobby yet fail to do anything himself. Did the prince believe what he said? Or was he merely jumping on the bandwagon?
In 2000 the Prince of Wales lectured us on the need to buy British. This flew in the face of the European Union which was all about the free movement of goods, services, capital and people. The EU was fairly non-tendentious at the time. HRH was wading into a row. It was a highly inapposite comment to make. Where did he buy his cars from? Germany. It was yet another example of flagrant hypocrisy and idiocy. He will take up cudgels for a stylish cause. Practice what you preach!
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle got themselves into trouble with a breathtaking piece of hypocrisy. It was also about the environment and private planes. Grandstanding your concern for the planet is oh so very en vogue. But if you really care about the planet then you need to do something about it. Not flying abroad would be a brilliant start. But if you are going to fly to France then fly on a scheduled flight. We are told by MM’s willfully blind defender Jameela Jamil that the royal couple simply could not fly on an ordinary plane because that would endanger the other passengers. Er… how come this same couple flew on an ordinary passenger plane with members of the public last year then? It was an asinine comment by Jammela Jamil. As usually with royalty it is the flunkies and groupies who are more deranged than the royals. If what Miss Jamil said is true then Prince Harry and Princess Meghan were grossly irresponsible in jeopardizing the lives of so many members of the public last year. Princess Anne regularly flies on scheduled flights with British Airways and other airlines. Was she placing people in mortal danger? Princess Margaret used to do so. Was she imperiling the public? The Queen takes the train along with members of the public. Did she do this at the hazard of people’s lives? Admittedly the Palace will book a whole first class carriage but only use half the seats for the Queen and her bodyguards and other staff. But there are members of the public in other carriages. If terrorists wanted to blow up the train it would kill the Queen and her subjects. La Jamil’s defence for her chum the Duchess of Sussex is disingenuous asinine in the extreme.
By flying on a private jet the Duke and Duchess of Sussex (Harry and Meghan) have done the environmental cause an enormous disservice. The impact they have had on the environment has been negligible. However, the impact they have had on public discourse is huge. They have handed ammunition to climate change deniers. The duke and duchess have enabled the anti-environmental lobby to frame the debate in a manner that favours the side of the polluters. Anti-environmentalists can say that environmentalism is all for billionaires and liberal luvvies. The pro-pollution lobby can now change the subject to this egregious example of hypocrisy. Polluters are let off the hook by self-indulgent behaviour by the prince and princess. Talk about being entitled! The eco-toff label fits the duke and duchess. It is all – do as I say not as I do.
Meghan Markle is more regal than the Queen – in Meghan’s mind anyway. MM could not abide the thought of rubbing shoulders with the dirty working classes. Therefore, she simply had to fly on a private jet. It is our right – dahling! Are these people out of touch? The vanity and inanity of Princess Meghan is peerless.
He who lives by the media will die by the media. You cannot coquette with the press one minute and tell them to butt out the next. Make your mind up!
Prince Charles had a kindly and avuncular image. Perhaps it is now grandfatherly as he is a grandad four times over. He comes over as easygoing, comfortable in his own skin and slightly ineffectual. But his cosy public persona is at odds with the business practices of his estate. His estate drives a very hard bargain. He is a rapacious landlord. Do not expect any compassion or respect for family life from the Duchy of Cornwall Estate. The prince excoriated modern architecture in his 1990 tome ‘A Vision of Britain’. It boggles the mind that he owns that architectural gem the Holiday Inn in Reading.
I do not wish to be overly harsh on the septagenarian prince. He is not all wicked. He has done a little good and occasionally donated a minute fraction of his unearned millions to good causes. He has championed some causes which have alleviated suffering. His charity The Prince’s Trust has helped some ne’er do wells up from the gutter. He is an envoy par excellence to the Arab world. He broaches the plight of Britishers in Saudi Arabian prisons when speaking to Saudi princes. He does so in a fashion which does not make the Saudi princelings start back. Prince Charles has helped to secure the release of Britons from fetid dungeons across Araby.
In November 2018 British telly was replete with hagiographies of Prince Charles. HRH had attained the age of 70 years. In the documentaries the prince said that when he becomes monarch he shall retain a seemly silence on controversial issues. It is meet and right so to do.
In the 1950s Lord Altrincham called for the monarchy to be proud up to date. His remarks were delivered in grating language. They earned him an assault from a reactionary member of the League of Empire Loyalists. Nevertheless, Buckingham Palace recognized that Lord Altrincham was on the money. Lord Charteris, a courtier, later said that Altrincham had done the royal family a tremendous service. The monarchy needed to move with the times and become more reflective of the Commonwealth. Call to mind Thomas Babington Macaulay’s dictum ‘reform that you may preserve.’ The House of Windsor needs to keep up to date.
Page boys are youngsters who attend the Queen at the State Opening of Parliament and on other occasions. These children wear scarlet uniforms, swallow tailcoats and white tights. They have to stand stock still behind Her Majesty on state occasions. Not every boy wants to do this. These boys are recruited about the age of 12 and only serve for a twelvemonth. They are drawn almost exclusively from patrician families. I have never seen one who is not white. This is untenable. The Palace must proactively recruit boys from all ethnic groups to represent the ever increasing ethnic pluralism of contemporary Britain. Further, they should not simply be scions of the squirearchy and the nobility. Working class boys should also have this opportunity. Why not have page girls too?
The Children of the Chapel Royal is a choir that dates back to the 13th century. The handful of choristers happily reflect the ethnic mélange that is the modern UK. All the choristers are boys despite the word ‘children’ being in the name of the choir. In the Middle Ages women were not permitted to sing in church or ever in the presence of men. This was due to a verse in the Bible which proclaimed ‘the female voice is nakedness.’ A prepubescent boy has a female voice! But the church was never keen on logic or consistency. As this choir is for unbroken voices there is no reason why girls should not be admitted to the Children of the Chapel Royal.
What is to be done? The British royal family must move towards a Scandinavian model. A modest and approachable royal family is what we need. The civil list needs to be rationalized. Then the royal family would think before preaching about the need to downscale our lifestyles and pay more for products to save the environment. The House of Windsor will still live in comfort. They have huge assets. They do not need to be bankrolled by the needy. Page boys should be recruited from all ethnicities and classes. There ought to be an Act of Parliament forbidding the royal family from voicing their opinions on contentious issues.