How the Royal Family maintains its privilege and gets away with it
Ben van Broeckhuijsen 25 May 2021
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of InQuire Media
Image courtesy of InSapphoWeTrust on Flickr
At the old age of 99, His Royal Highness Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh passed away, just two months shy of his 100th birthday. Something of a maverick within the Royal Family, the DoE often deviated from the prefabricated one-liners typically given to the press, going as far as calling himself a ‘caricature’. Labelled ‘the Hun’ by the Queen Mother, he was initially not seen as a good match for the Queen on account of his mixed ancestry. Like a mutt among a family of British bulldogs, Prince Philip’s difference from the pack allowed him to renew an archaic institution. His Way Ahead Group, for example, decided in the early ‘90s that the Queen was to pay income tax, setting a course towards a perceived normalcy in the royal lifestyle. In his time as primary consort to the Queen, he advocated for the Queen’s coronation to be televised, lifting the veil that covered the Royal Family in mystery ever so slightly.
The late Prince’s influence and shift away from the royal family’s traditions were long overdue. Perhaps inspired by him, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge having launched their own YouTube channel, making it evident that the once so old-fashioned Royal Family are appearing to erode their distance from the public step by step. Sadly, this is nothing less than a misguided attempt at drawing away attention from the bad publicity they have received in recent years. While they may try to come across as harmless, ordinary figureheads of the nation, nothing could be further from the truth.
As per a 2018 Ipsos approval ratings report, 46% of the British public think that the UK would be worse off if the monarchy was abolished, with a combined 45% saying it would be better off, or that it would make no difference. To me, this makes absolutely no sense. A large portion of people applaud those who pretend to be contributing to British society, while they blatantly continue to exploit their royal position to grow ever richer and further removed from the average citizen. This is exemplified by the Queen’s private estate, the Duchy of Lancaster, which is worth roughly £530 million and has reported an increase in gross income for the last five years. This estate is comprised of a portfolio of British properties (such as the Savoy Estate) and assets whose income, unlike the Crown Estate, only the Queen benefits from.
Conceptually, having a king or queen with a kind of Divine Right to rule over the people is obsolete, and it is undemocratic to have an unelected head of state. It must be noted, however, that modern monarchs rarely influence life in ways that directly affect us commoners like an MP would. In most constitutional monarchies around the world, the monarch acts as a sort of mascot, brought out to preside over the forming of a government coalition, or to witness the proposal of the next year’s budget. As is the case in the UK, this semblance of harmlessness is convenient. Through this, they can attract attention for things like their outfits, rather than their questionable financial position or controversial behaviour. When they ride past us in their gilded carriages (adorned with images of slaves in the case of the Dutch royal family), I cannot help but think that they have no place in a world where inequality is rising.
There is a sect of people out there who are born with a tax-paid silver spoon in their mouth. The Royal Family has access to a source of wealth most of us can only dream of and we, the loyal subjects, pay for a large chunk of this privilege. Through the Sovereign Grant, every British person contributed a bit more than a pound as of 2019, in an arrangement where the Treasury gives the Crown 25% of the profits made through the Crown Estate (which includes locations like Regent Street and Windsor Great Park). The other 75% goes back to the state, coming down to roughly £250 million in 2020. Percentage points and intricacies aside, this seems a fair arrangement. In a fair arrangement, we would expect that, just like everyone else, the Crown would have adapted to the effects of a COVID-19 related tanking of the economy. “Not I,” said our Queen.
A clever provision in the Sovereign Grant stipulates that its value can never fall and must instead stay the same or go up. This means that the British taxpayer would be expected to bail out its own royal family because the value of the Crown Estate has gone down by £500 million. All of this to meet the pre-determined grant for 2020-2021 set at £86.3 million. Why is it that in 2020, 14 million people in the UK lived in poverty, but law dictates that additional tax money must go to an institution already worth roughly £20 billion? The answer: deep-rooted protection of the very privileged few.
In and of itself, it is reprehensible to be (partially) paying for the lavish lifestyles of a group of people who are so unconcerned with their subjects. A sympathetic view of the royals might (rightly) point out that these people work full time attending charity events, and that they have little say over the way their income from the Sovereign Grant is spent. This take is accurate, but limited. In reality, the Sovereign Grant does not account for a large part of their security costs, and hosts of royal visits often end up paying the price (estimated in Republic’s report on the monarchy’s costs). What this shows is that the Sovereign Grant portion of the money-vacuum that is the Royal Family may account for the costs of, for example, Prince Andrew’s travel costs to go to a golfing tournament, but that expenses such as ensuring he gets the very best quality of food at the tournament, are ultimately not accounted for.
On top of all that, take the fact that ‘The Firm’ recently launched a formal investigation of bullying claims against Meghan Markle, but neglected to formally investigate Prince Andrew’s ties to Jeffrey Epstein. Double standards like these are commonplace in high society, so they can easily be overlooked. Here, though, protecting a socialite whose alibi is his incapability of sweating, while conveniently investigating a dissident starting a discussion about the inner workings of the organisation, is unbearably hypocritical.
The unwavering praise seen in this country for such an archaic, morally questionable institution is not just impossible to understand, it is dangerous. Under the guise of financial clarity and frequent interaction with the public, it becomes easy to ignore the burden that this institution places on the country. As such, I ask that when you watch William and Kate try to become the new Alfie and Zoella, consider that you are looking at a veil that distracts from the rotten apples at the heart of the Royal Family. Unfortunately for them, even when you throw a sheet over a basket of rotten fruit, the stench persists.