The Royal Question.


Source: Wikimedia Commons. Author: Carfax2

Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Author: Carfax2

The Chagos Islands were acquired by the British Empire in 1814 and renamed British Indian Ocean Territory in the 1960s. The Immigration Ordinance 1971 for the Islands gave the right to the Commissioner of the Islands to forcibly remove the people who lived there. By 1972, almost all of the Islanders had been forcibly removed to make way for the Island of Diego Garcia to be used as a US Military Base. All of this was made possible by what is known as an ‘Order in Council’. A Legislative instrument, put forth by the Queen. What the Queen gave her consent to, and in fact, ordered by Order in Council, was a massive displacement effort of the worst kind. And yet, we hear nothing of it. Ever. Firstly, all plantations were closed down so work was very scarce. The idea was to make the inhabitants leave the island voluntarily to find work. As was food, which the British stopped from being shipped to the Island. Secondly, anyone from Diego Garcia who had travelled to Mauritius for work, or to use the hospital or other health facilities were refused entry back to their homes.
Their houses were left, their possessions now belonged to Britain. They were not allowed to even contact family on the Island. Thirdly, the local population had developed a sense of family that included two children, a wife, a husband, and a dog. Every family had and cherished their pet dog. Sir Bruce Greatbatch MBE, Governor of the Seychelles ordered all dogs were to be killed. John Pilger in “Stealing a Nation” notes that families of the islanders he had spoken to, had said they remember as children watching the British walk away with their dogs, and throwing them into a room to be gassed. The dog deaths was used as a warning to let the locals know that they had to leave, or they would suffer the consequences. This is the consequence of Royal prerogatives used to rush dangerous, and quite frankly, evil policy through the democratic process, and away from public scrutiny.

One of the great myths that people push to defend the British Monarchy, is that they are wonderful for tourism. It is simply not true. There seems to be a misunderstanding of tourism here. It isn’t the Queen herself, nor Prince Charles, nor the slightly racist rants of Prince Philip that drive tourists to Britain. It is the history of the Monarchy, that does not depend on a continued Monarchical presence within British Democracy for its tourist attractiveness. Buckingham Palace is closed for most of the year, to tourists. 50,000 people visited Buckingham Palace in 2007. Millions visit Versailles every year. France’s tourist trade has coped wonderfully since the abolition of the Monarchy. In fact, the abolition itself became a fascinating cog in the history of France. The historical remnants of Monarchy, are what attract people, not the present Monarchy itself.

“Visit Britain”, which promotes tourism to the UK conducted a survey of 26000 people from 26 different countries, what pulled them to want to visit the UK. The Spanish visitors said visiting Stately Homes, and old Royal Castles were more of a pull than Buckingham Palace. The Norwegians rated current Royal sites 14th on their list, behind shopping and football. Overall, Buckingham Palace didn’t make it into the top 20 of Tourist Destinations from Visit Britain’s survey. The only Royal Site that did make it, was Windsor Castle, at 17th place. The Palace is still a top tourist destination, but simply for a photo op. Abolish the Monarchy tomorrow, and it’d be just as much of a tourist pull. Open the doors all year round to tourists, and Buckingham Palace would be one of the biggest tourist attractions in the Country. Much like Versailles.

So, with the tourism argument down, what’s left? There appear to be two more strands of reason for continued Monarchy. Firstly, ‘value for money’, and then ‘tradition’. For the former, I have to confess, I don’t know what this means. They cost us. They don’t bring anything in. Or at least, nothing that can be quantified easily. Their costs are often skewed and hidden away, and presented as rather cheap. The latest media hype, is that the Royals cost the public 62p each. The BBC gave us this rather manipulative breakdown of the Royal costs. It is manipulative, because it doesn’t include security costs. The cost for protection for the Duke of York alone, came to £1m according to Dai Davis, former head of Scotland Yard’s Royal Protection. Brand Finance agreed with ‘Republic’ (the pressure group for a British Republic) that Royal security adds up to around £101,000,000 a year. That’s about three times as much as the Royal costs set out in the BBC summary. Nor does it account for costs to local authorities making arrangements for Royal visits, paid for by taxpayers.

This also doesn’t cover the income the Royals receive from the two Duchies. Let’s take the Duchy of Cornwall, which gives Prince Charles an annual income of around £17,000,000. He did nothing to deserve it. He didn’t build up a business. It is simply a lot of land (representing about 2% of Cornwall, including practically the entire Isles of Scilly, and covering 141,000 acres; half of which are in Dartmoor in Devon) that Parliament grants to the Royals, and that the Royals do not own, and yet gives them a lot of money from commercial and residential areas; thus draining the treasury of much needed funds. It is the equivalent of a portion of your city, being given to one citizen, for no discernible reason, who then rakes in almost £20m a year from it. Given this enormous income from land he doesn’t own, nor deserve, it is no surprise that the Prince uses his non-democratic, influence within a democratic framework.

In late 2012, the Government fought viciously to suppress the disclosure of 27 letters that the Prince had sent to Government departments, because they contained, and I quote:

“Much of the correspondence does indeed reflect the Prince of Wales’s most deeply held personal views and beliefs. The letters in this case are in many cases particularly frank.

“They also contain remarks about public affairs which would in my view, if revealed, have had a material effect upon the willingness of the government to engage in correspondence with the Prince of Wales, and would potentially have undermined his position of political neutrality.”

– In other words, it might make the Monarchy look bad. And we can’t have that. For a government now obsessed with ‘freedom of the press’, it seems to me that they mean freedom to harass celebrities, but not say a bad word of the Royals. The Attorney General quite clearly accepts that the Prince is not behaving politically neutral. He just doesn’t want us to see to what level. “If revealed”, doesn’t change the fact that the Prince isn’t acting politically neutral. The Attorney General wishes for Prince Charles to be allowed to continue having influence over policy, without being challenged on it.

A Freedom of Information tribunal decided that the public had the right to know of the meddling in Government affairs, from the Royals. The Attorney General, veto’d the ruling. This, along with 2010 changes to the Freedom of Information Act that give the Royals complete exemption from revealing his details with civil servants. He invites secretaries of State to dinner. He sends letters. But we aren’t allowed to know what they say. Between the start of 2011 and the end of 2012, Charles’s aides had 18 face to face meetings with Downing Street officials, including the head of the Civil Service, and four secretaries of State. But we’re not allowed to know what was said. Why? What reasonable basis could there possibly be, for allowing one man such unfathomably undemocratic power over an entire nation?

According to ex-Labour spin doctor, Alastair Campbell, Prince Charles often overstepped his constitutional boundaries, by constantly trying to undermine policy such as; fox hunting, and the abolition of hereditary peers, in a letter from the Prince, that Campbell describes as ‘menacing’.

In 2009, Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, was caught offering access to her husband, Prince Andrew, by Mazher Mahmood of the News of the World posing as an Indian businessman, for £50,000. Clearly access to the Prince is a very valuable commodity for some reason. What does that £50,000 buy you? In 2011 the Telegraph reported that of the public funds spent on Prince Andrew’s lavish lifestyle, he spent “£154,000 on hotels, food and hospitality and £465,000 on travel“.

The Monarchy is also afforded a special place above the law. The Monarch is immune from arrest. She is the law. The police are below her. The Prosecution service is below her. The prison service is below her. They all exist to serve her. If she were to commit a terrible crime, it would fall to Parliament to debate legislation in order to bring her to justice. Because, she was born with the privilege of being better than the law. Unlike the rest of us. We are all her ‘subjects’, we are all ‘inferior’ to the Monarch.

In February of this year, the NHS Choices Website, which supposedly offers evidence-based guidance for treatments for patients, decided not to publish a report stating that there is no real evidence that Homeopathy works or should be offered via NHS services. The report was kept off the site after lobbying from the highly controversial Foundation for Integrated Medicine; a ‘Foundation’ run by Prince Charles (a supporter of Homeopathy). The Foundation has since closed, due to allegations of fraud. Surprisingly. The Prince seems to be lobbying to quiet any report or evidence that contradicts his political agenda. He can pay for all this, with his lovely Duchy of Cornwall money tree.

The Attorney General went on to say that to release information on what the Prince has said to top officials:

“would be seriously damaging to his role as a future monarch”

– Shouldn’t the public be given all the information, to make the informed decision whether we actually want Charles as a future head of state? Why should we only be given positive information on the Monarchy? Why does our media focus entirely on the Queen’s birthday, or Kate’s shoe stuck in a grill? Why should their dealings within the democratic framework of the UK, not be transparent? On what rational basis, is Charles not only permitted a huge system of revenue through “his” Duchy of Cornwall, but also allowed to pursue a political agenda, with access to Whitehall, whilst the rest of us aren’t? The only reason the Monarchy retains such high support with the British public, is because they are not open to scrutiny. We do not get to hear the way they intrude on public life, the agenda they push, the way they use their illegitimate power covertly, and free from Freedom of Information. We are only exposed to the positives; the Diamond Jubilee, the Royal Wedding, what gender is the Royal baby? If we were free to inspect the negatives – their convert intrusions into politics – I suspect their support base would shatter, which is perhaps the reason the Attorney General does not wish the public to know the scale of the Prince’s political influence over the democratic process. The remnants of the Feudal system within our modern democracy, is self protecting. There is a concerted effort to bury the negative side of Monarchy, promote positives through the illusion of ‘culture’ and ‘tradition’, in order to ensure that there is no credible challenge to the established order.

The Monarchy simply isn’t a tourist attraction, nor is it a commercial enterprise, nor is it a harmless left over. It wields power, it has in the past fifty years caused misery to people in far off lands, it is protected from scrutiny, and it amasses great wealth during the most difficult of economy struggles. ‘Tradition’ is simply not a good enough argument i’m afraid. Let us not forget that we also have wonderful Republican traditions and figures. John Locke, Jon Stuart Mill, Thomas Paine; all fantastic English political philosophers and Republicans. There is absolutely no reasonable argument for an unelected, hereditary Head of State.

The United Kingdom is a curious constitutional compromise; give the people a sort of quasi-say over the way the system works, keep the completely discredited power of Royal lineage in the background out of the way of public scrutiny, but wielding power whenever it so wishes, and if that doesn’t work; talk about tourism. With this curious constitutional compromise, comes Lords, Bishops, unelected yet able to influence the legislative process. Why so? What gives a Bishop any right to decide upon matters of public policy? How are they better equipped to offer input? They are not answerable to any constituency. They are a single religious group, given by the consent of no one, the special right to partake in Parliamentary business, approved simply for being quite good at believing in Jesus. This is absurd. And it relies solely on an established Church, given such status, by its head, the Monarch.

A non-transparent, non-accountable Monarchy, promoting its own agenda, and a state religion, is not to be trusted, nor accepted in a 21st Century Secular Democracy.

Addressing the real problems within the constitutional settlement and the political system – the Lords, the Bishops, an established Church within an apparent ‘secular’ society, the curious terms used in Parliament “the right honourable gentleman”, the Duchy’s and all the other remnants of a Feudal system that we have swallowed into our current system, that neither demands it, nor requires it – starts with a completely transparent Monarchy. From there, I see no reason why Republican values would not become more pronounced and acceptable. The Monarchy cannot just be abolished over night; it takes a change in attitude publicly, and that can only begin when the Monarchy is open to the scrutiny that it has so far been able to work its way around.

They contribute little, they take a lot, they own land they don’t deserve, they influence public policy from a position outside of a democratic framework, they are largely free from critique, and they suppress information contrary to their political agenda. Tell me again, why do we still have a Feudal relic, that refuses to give up its Feudal influence?

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4 Responses to The Royal Question.

  1. Ian says:

    Very good article. I will never be able to accept that I am a subject and not a citizen. With citizenship comes an individuals constitutional rights written down and embodied within the legal system. Until that day comes my rights as a person are literally ‘subject’ to the whims of another. In that sense I am very similar to a slave in 19th C Britain.

  2. CBS says:

    Couldn’t we all be a bit more pragmatic about this. There’s no need to become a republic to make the nation more democratic,secular, free, equal, transparent, or accountable. Look at Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Canada, etc as proof. They’re the most progressive nations on earth, they have the above qualities in spades, and they have the monarchy. Whatever it is they’re doing, we need to do. Meanwhile, the US, Israel, Poland, and Switzerland are republics, and Australia is 46% republican, but this doesn’t stop them all being ball-achingly conservative.

  3. CBS says:

    I respect the republican intellectual tradition but developed constitutional monarchies need it like a hole in the head at the present time.

  4. Carnun says:

    Reblogged this on The Ramblings of a Young Atheist | Carnun Marcus-Page and commented:
    Avoiding the news because of ‘Royal baby’ rubbish? Read this, yet another great Futile Democracy article.

    Now I know this blog isn’t meant to specifically cover politics, but it’s a subject I, the Author (not of this piece of course), am interested in and have opinions on… So if its inclusion bothers you, get over it. 😉

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