Off With Their Heads?

Posted on July 19, 2009


The New Statesman was extremely brave last week when it went out on a limb by demanding the end of monarchy. Republicanism as an ideology has been dormant in this country for far too long now, yet the magazine felt able to dedicate an entire issue to why this country would be better off without Queen Elizabeth II and her extended family.

The extraordinary position and power of the Queen, though somewhat concealed by the ability of Elizabeth herself to appear to reflect the views of the population at large, is evident from the smallest glimpse of any official websites. She owns huge swathes of land across the country, 340,000 acres in all. The royal family is indicative of a wider situation in the United Kingdom, where 69% of the land is owned by 0.6% of the population, and where the gap between rich and poor is increasing every year. Yet this remains largely undiscussed by politicians, the media and the population in general.

Not only do they own so much land, but they also expect the British taxpayer to help with the upkeep costs. Kensington Palace, St James Palace, Buckingham Palace, Clarence House and Windsor Castle cost a total of £14.2 million per year to run, and the royal family itself contributes very little towards this. At the best of times, least of all during a recession, should the state be paying millions of pounds to maintain the properties of a family that has not been elected by the British public?

The silence of the Windsors during the recent MP expenses outcry was notable, as a glance at their own expenses serves to incriminate them, along with the majority of Westminster, in the outrageous waste of taxpayers’ money. A recent poll by Republic, whose campaign for an elected head of state is to be commended, demonstrated that 62% of Britons want the expenses of the royal family to be published. With the Queen currently in the process of asking for a significant increase to the civil list, this demand doesn’t seem too unfair, especially as little of the money handed over to the Windsors does anything at all to benefit her ‘subjects’. The little we do know about the spending of the royals makes the mouth water over the juicy possibilities of a full disclosure. Prince William spent £86,000 on ‘training’ flights to a stag party and to visit Kate Middleton’s family. His father’s trips to the Far East and South America cost £700,000 each. Princess Beatrice has recently obtained a place at Goldsmith’s, but she will be quite unlike any other student at the college when she moves into an apartment at St James Palace, renovated at the princely cost of £256,000. The Queen’s total income from the state is £41.5 million, and yet she still wants more to keep her vast family living comfortably. Surely there is something more worthwhile that this money could be spent on?

The Queen’s own personality has been vital in maintaining respect for the royal family, even after her annus horribilis of 1992 and the death of Princess Diana in 1997. Yet it is unlikely that her successors, and let us not forget that the Windsor dynasty has been a particularly mediocre one in terms of abilities and achievement, will display such abilities. As the New Statesman points out, we are within one explosion of King Harry, a circumstance that makes the idea of King Charles III seem positively ideal.

What I have written above suggests that my main issue with the monarchy is its cost. Yet this only forms part of my objection. The monarchy as an institution, as long as it remains, prevents Britain from becoming truly democratic. As I write, we are ‘subjects’ of an unelected head of state, and our laws are subject to the wants of 92 hereditary peers in the House of Lords. I wish to be a citizen, not a subject. I will bow to nobody, least of all for the reason that they had the good fortune to be born into a ‘higher’ social status. Traditionalism is not a reason for keeping the monarchy, and neither is tourism, given that the likes of Versailles continue to be flooded with guests years after their royal inhabitants have departed. Therefore, as the time grows ever closer when King Charles III will rule over us, is it not time to consign the monarchy, as other countries have done, to history and elect a head of state of our own?

Posted in: Issues, Politics