Monday, 22 November 2010

The Untouchable Monarchy

Unless you've been living in a cave for the past couple of weeks you may have noticed that there is going to be a royal wedding next year, something which judging by the amount of coverage it's received seems to be on a par with a cure for HIV. I'm not being dour, I'm sure they'll have a lovely wedding and enjoy life as a married couple, but I just don't care. We're essentially fawning over a headline of: 'Couple who met at university to marry next year.' Not exactly front page worthy is it?

Great news for them, but why exactly should I care?

But my reason for writing this is that I genuinely couldn't believe some of the comments I've seen aimed at republicans who would dare suggest that the monarchy should pay for their own wedding. It would seem a relatively un-provocative idea in a time of austerity surely? So I thought I'd counter some of the monarchist arguments in one handy post, in order of how often I've heard them. (Aside from those I already made last time)

  • What does it matter, they don't do anything and have no power: First of all, how this can be a defense of an institution we are spending good money on is beyond me, (the idea that we should work out the cost by dividing by the population is bizarre indeed, any cost looks small when you divide it by every citizen, including non-taxpayers) surely we'd want something back for our substantial amounts of money.
    And secondly, whilst it might be true that the Queen has little real power left, (save to choose the Prime Minister in a tie) the institution of the monarchy holds all the power in the land. Whilst most of it is given to parliament, this arrangement allows the Prime Minister and Privy Council to have unchecked power that they would not have without the monarchy. 

  • The power to go to war without a vote and to give immunity are just two of many powers available under the 'Royal Prerogative'. We can only move towards a real, democratic constitution when we get rid of the monarchy. 

  • They pay for themselves through tourism: Well, this argument is just patently untrue, as well as being brilliantly irrelevant. There is no evidence that the monarchy does anything for tourism, and even less to suggest it brings in substantial amounts. 

  • The royal residences make up 1% of Britain's total tourism revenue, and only one makes it into the Top 20 list of tourism destinations (Windsor Castle at 17). In fact, the Tower of London is much more successful than any of the residences (at number 6) which may even suggest the royal residences would make much more money if they were vacated by the current dwellers.
    You can still have all the pomp and tradition of things like the changing of the guard without the Queen around, it's all ceremonial anyway.

It's lovely, and not going anywhere if we get rid of the Monarchy.

  • There are more important things to worry about: Of course there are, no-one would deny that. But since when as a country did we rank our priorities and decide we could only cope with dealing with one at a time? It'd be pretty slow progress if we worked like that.

  • I'd say the validity of our democracy was something we should deal with, regardless of how high up the pecking order it is. We look back at history and laugh at Kings who claim they were sent by God to rule, yet still we have an unelected representative as our Head of State who is simply chosen by bloodlines? You cannot claim that is democratic in any sense of the word, it makes a mockery of our attempts to espouse the virtues of democracy to other nations.

  • It would cost more to have a president: Again, this is just patently untrue, and quite beside the point. This isn't about money, it's about democracy, but I may as well disprove this fallacy anyway.

  • The palace may claim to cost £40 million a year, (a big enough figure in itself) but they left out some key expenses. If you include lost revenue from the Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall, unpaid tax, security costs and costs for local authorities the real figure is around £180 million. By contrast Ireland spends £1.8m and Austria spends £3.5m. Even an expensive president like Germany's costs £26m, still a massive saving.

    And those who claim the monarchy pays for itself because they 'donate' the proceeds of the Crown estate to the government are also wrong. The Crown estates don't belong to the Queen, she can't donate what she doesn't own. The estates belong to the Sovereign, they are not the personal property of any individual monarch. In essence the Queen looks after the estates, the revenue from them always has and always will have the purpose of providing income for the country, with or without a monarch.

There are more, but I won't bore you longer, anyone interested can look at more here, and those who aren't will surely have switched pages by now, so no need to worry about them.

Some of the attempts to defend such a patently unfair and backwards institution really do amuse me, but sadly we still have to make the arguments because not enough people care to actually get rid of them, despite the lack of any cohesive argument for them to be retained.

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