The French Did It By 1789, Surely 218 Years Later We Should Join Them?

The French Did It By 1789, Surely 218 Years Later We Should Join Them?

The British Royal Family, and monarchies generally, have a lot to answer for; they manage to sponge millions off the state each year and have an unnerving amount to do with politics and legislature. If you were to describe the system outside of the context of the Western monarchical tradition, most sane members of society would surely dismiss it as ridiculous. Yet monarchical apologists often reply with that tradition as an answer for why that system should remain intact. The other common answer, that it’s a big moneymaker for the nation, is both insignificant in light of the negative aspects and at the same time misses the point entirely. Forget a flag referendum; we need a referendum on the monarchy. 

Just like the pious, republicans (not the American political group) constantly get swept up in the financial gain the monarchy provides to the national purse, as if the cost of our lacking democracy may be offset at a price unknown to the rest of us. The annual revenue associated with the palaces and castles in Britain that are owned by the ‘Royal Collection Trust’ tops £54 million (NZD$97 million), an astronomical sum to us mere ‘subjects’. But these palaces would work equally as well, if not better, as tourist attractions as opposed to being occupied. We only need to look at France to see this. The Palace of Versailles was visited by 7.5 million people last year, with Buckingham Palace languishing back at just under 500,000. This is all while a £370 million ($672 million) refurbishment upgrade was approved by then Prime Minister David Cameron in November last year. The Queen herself is worth £330 million (NZD$592 million), and with that level of obscene wealth secures the 285th place on The Sunday Times Rich List, so she could have almost forked out the cash herself instead of relying on the taxpayer to pay for her new curtains and plumbing. 

Of course, it’s not as though deposing monarchs is absent from British history, it’s just that when it has occurred, its intention was simply to replace the former monarch with yet another unelected, despotic, tyrant. New Zealand doesn’t even reap the monetary reward of the monarchy in the same way that the United Kingdom does. If anything the monarchy comes with a net loss for New Zealand that’s not exclusive to finances. In retaining this antiquated institution, the commonwealth nations also retain the undemocratic, unmeritocratic, benefit scrounging hallmarks the system thrives on. The handouts to the Windsor Family are the bane of governments, who commonly try to create ‘initiatives to see them back into the workforce in the near future’. If only someone could muster the courage to tell the Royals that their benefit is ending and will soon have to seek work if they want to continue on the state welfare they have become accustomed to for centuries. It’s all well and good to enjoy the birth of Prince George or most recently Princess Charlotte, but to take pleasure in this whole show of vulgarity, pageantry, and grandeur is verging on masochistic seeing as you paid for it in part. 

Thanks to Prince William and Kate (Duke and Duchess of Cambridge) the Royals are now resurrecting some of their age-old support, but what they represent is totally obscene to the values that we should stand by wholeheartedly. Though the vast majority of the public have to work hard to puncture industries and forge careers on the back of mounting student loan debt and the sweat and tears of a challenging and stressful job market, the monarchy lap it up, untouchable from the reality their subjects experience. Their various prerogative powers may have been rescinded over the last few hundred years to the point where they are essentially figureheads, but their position still retains the classic hallmarks of the despotism and tyranny of old. My hope is that we are surely now just playing a waiting game until a government or opposition considers the disposal of the monarchy both necessary and feasible for their own political revival or until the monarchy themselves abuse their position and run their privilege squarely into the ground.

You may think the latter is the less likely of the two, but you may be surprised. Heir apparent Prince Charles, next in line for the throne, has regularly ‘dabbled in politics’, something that should make even the most vehement modern republican shudder. A “secretive constitutional loophole” was discovered by a Guardian investigation, which forced members of parliament to seek permission from the prince before introducing legislation, effectively giving him a right to veto legislation that might affect his private interests. The investigation revealed that he used this secret power on twelve separate occasions between 2005-2012. Let’s be clear though, this is additional to the Queen’s absurd power of ‘Royal Assent’, in which the Queen herself must provide her personal assent to all parliamentary bills within the commonwealth before they are enacted and become legislation. Despite this being a more or less powerless activity, she does theoretically have the power to refuse her assent, an action that would propel the country into a ‘constitutional crisis’ in which, in all seriousness, no one really knows what would happen. This is most likely to occur when a bill was passed in ‘bad faith’, but quite frankly it is ludicrous to think the monarch has a better interpretation of what ‘bad faith’ entails than anyone of her ‘subjects’, or those given a mandate to govern from the people. Many countries, including New Zealand, have a ‘Governor-General’ to complete that task on her behalf, but that provides an absurdly farcical result. We have created a position occupied by a figurehead to work on behalf of another figurehead instead of realising the ridiculousness of the practice of unelected assent to bills in the first place. This re-politicisation of the monarchy may seem a futile issue to discuss - especially when Prince Charles only exercised this power on twelve occasions - but when his consensus is needed to create legislation simply because it may affect his private interests, it is obvious that his fingers are firmly wedged in a few pies, and often corrupt pies at that.

Moreover, it’s not as though the political endeavours of the royals are the only critical activity of the family. They are regularly embroiled in controversy through decision-making that would cause friends and family to question our own sanity if it happened to us. Prince Harry, Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s youngest son - who has just lost his place in line to the throne to his brother’s children, George and Charlotte - has been the usual culprit. He has been snapped at a Las Vegas party by various media organisations sporting a Nazi swastika on his arm, physically clashed with paparazzi on several occasions outside nightclubs, and referred to a Pakistani friend of his as “our little Paki friend” - a phrase which would turn heads (and fists) in England if not here in New Zealand. This is a distinguished representative of the British Royal Family and the Commonwealth at large, and wearing such a vulgar costume in his position is simply an obscene display of entitlement.

You would expect the prince’s popularity to decline when a swastika adorns his arm and news media explodes with full front page spreads detailing his gaffe to the world, however he remains the third most popular royal after his brother Prince William and his grandmother Queen Elizabeth II. His popularity seems to ebb and flow in much the same way as Donald Trump’s; the stupider the action or remark, the more popular he gets. His antics don’t even appear to affect the wider royal family, with a YouGov poll revealing that only 17 percent of UK citizens thought an elected head of state would be better for the country than a monarch. Additionally, 62 percent believed that a hereditary monarchy will still be present in the UK in one hundred years time - a bleak thought. These statistics go some way to showing how entrenched this obsession with the monarchy has become.

For someone to truly gauge how obsessed the British are with the royals though, all they need to do is to look at the public’s reaction to the death of Princess Diana, who by that stage had already been divorced from Prince Charles for a year. People who had never met ‘Princess Di’ were inconsolable; as if their own mother had died rather than someone they’d never even met. Headlines such as, “Goodnight Our Sweet Princess”, “Prince comes home with ‘the People’s Princess’”, and “Your People Are Suffering, Speak To Us Ma’am” were splayed across the nation’s tabloids and broadsheets as the nation itself, bar a few grounded people, ground to a halt as soon as they heard the news. Diana was regarded as a sort of goddess, with her charity work and ‘service to the nation’ giving her the nickname ‘People’s Princess’. However, the truth is often lost in the clouds of royalty and pageantry. Diana Spencer was not born into an average middle class family; in fact, she was herself born into royalty. Her father was a Viscount, educated at Eton College and then, like much of the British royalty, went to the Military College at Sandhurst (Prince William and Harry both went there, as well as countless other royals before them). Diana’s mother, Francis Kydd, was born in Sandringham (an estate privately owned by Queen Elizabeth II herself), and her father was not only the 4th Baron Fermoy, but also a good friend of the Queen’s father, George VI. She managed to make £17 million and then £400,000 per year from her divorce settlement, so she did exceptionally well out of the British taxpayer. All of this should illuminate the fact that Diana was born into aristocracy and nobility before choosing to join the royals ranks, and should by no means be a “People’s Princess” as a result of simply choosing to marry in. 

The monarchy really is something that only Britain (along with twnety-two other nations on Earth) could not only live with, but also cherish so passionately as to not have abolished the institution as the French so gallantly did in the late 18th century. Let’s get rid of this benefit-scrounging family once and for all. 

This article first appeared in Issue 9, 2017.
Posted 12:20pm Sunday 23rd April 2017 by Joe Higham.