I re-posted something yesterday from a year ago [actually, it is my previous post], and accompanied it with the comment that I hoped that my blogging style had improved over the last year. I fear it has not. I’m certainly no more conclusive.
An American blogger I follow posted last night (most everything American is “night” for the UK) something which included the British royal family. They weren’t central to his post, but I couldn’t resist posting a mischievous comment anyway.
I know that there is a degree of affection for our royal family, so I made sure it was a gentle jibe – there is no point getting animated, or nasty about this, and certainly not toward a fellow blogger with whom I’m on friendly terms. But ultimately, I am a republican to my bones.
The usual reason I give for this is money, and certainly, that is an element, although not the key element – it is quicker to explain. The UK taxpayer pays a sum each year to its royal family. By modern standards, it is not a great deal of money – probably around £25 million ($30M, give or take) per year. (That’s, what, 1,000 nurses or teachers?) But, you know, enough to get by, if you’re careful.
In addition, there are the running costs, the upkeep of the palaces for example. The taxpayer foots some of that bill too – we’re handily reminded that these buildings are state assets, after all. But we have no right to access them – they are not to be used, except as somebody’s private residence. S. Plural. There was a story not long ago about the taxpayer footing the bill (over £2 million, $2,5M?) to bring Harry and Meghan’s house-in-the-country up to scratch. I wish somebody would give me £2 million to bring my house up to scratch! Think about it. £2 million. That’s one swanky new kitchen! After the stroke, I was given a stool and two grab-rails, which came to comfortably less than $50, including fitting, and, by the way, my disability benefit is less than £/$100 per week. Note the significantly fewer zeros! But that’s just the way it is – I don’t wish to sow the seed that society thinks hat disabled eople are worthless in comparison, merely to contrast those two numbers.
The standard argument against this runs along the lines, “but the royal family generates more than <insert whatever value you like>for the UK economy”. Fine. But who’s to say that revenue would dry up, should the UK taxpayer stop contributing to their lifestyle?
Let’s be clear here – if the royal family still exists, fine. Plenty of royal families still exist. I don’t want a Russian Revolution. I want the UK taxpayer to be relieved of the burden because we have more important things to spend our money on.
I’d just finish this part by pointing out that, at the last count, the queen was worth something like £500 million – that’s about $650 million, for US readers). So, I would argue that she doesn’t need my support. As a gesture of my goodwill, I would be happy to leave her (and her successors, I really don’t want to personalise this) living in the palaces, but let’s also make some money out of them. Let’s recognise that they are the taxpayer’s assets, and get them generating revenue.
There is a more important issue, though. This notion of a hereditaryness, and here, I am quite revolutionary.
Let’s say we moved to an island someplace and started off a new state. How should we decide upon our Head of State, our figurehead? We’d elect them, right? The person best qualified for the job. Whatever the role “Head of State” entailed, we (the populace) would choose the most suitable person for the role. And, we wouldn’t give them the job for life – we’d maybe give ourselves a mechanism for replacing them, should they suffer ill-health, or retire, or even if they didn’t do such a good job and we found somebody better. Even if that mechanism was no more sophisticated than to elect somebody every few years.
We wouldn’t want to trust to luck – to not just give them the job for life, but for perpetuity. Not just one person but all their descendants too! Get a black sheep – a guy falling for a divorcee, for example, a real life example of Edward VIII’s fate – and you end up twisting and turning to keep the thread going.
To me, that whole idea is an anacronism, because the populace should decide who is best suited to represent, well, the populace. The populace, really, is at the heart of everything.
Of course, this approach comes with fallout, but actually not as much as you’d think. We’re talking about replacing “monarch” with “Head of State”.
We can talk about Honours Lists, even things like our second parliamentary chamber. Everybody who gets an honour, who sits in the House of Lords – in theory, this is all the patronage of the monarch but is in practice, patronage of our Prime Minister. Because the role of the monarch is already ceremonial, in any case. So, what’s the difference, between replacing the word “monarch” with “elected Head of State”? The notion of an honour seemingly-from-the-head-of-state-but-actually-from-the-prime-minister seems silly to me, but if people do have an appetite for it, so be it.
But things probably should change. We’re talking about most suitable here, and yet the word patronage crept into that last paragraph. Patronage? Can of Worms. Not least, I’m not going to get into it because this post is long enough, I am hungry and I want to publish it before I eat.
But I shall leave patronage on the note that we dispense with it for some roles – we wouldn’t accept a Prime Minister, or a president, or any other Head of State who was just appointed to lead us, for example. Yet a Prime Minister picks his cabinet (governing team). A Prime Minister will appoint such-and-such a judge, for example, or a European Commissioner (just about!). And in some respects, that’s probably right – who are we to judge who’d make a good Deputy Under Secretary for Dirty Laundry, for example? Which of us would care?
So there’s my question. That boundary between directness and delegation, where does it lie? Any ideas?