Poynted remarks

IssueOctober - November 2022
Comment by Claire Poyner

I am not and never have been, a supporter of the monarchy. I don’t come from a republican-inclined family – my mother, a firm socialist, nevertheless believed the queen to be a stabilising force, and a figurehead that the military are loyal to, making a military coup much less likely.

Oh, she would have preferred a Scandinavian or Dutch model of monarchy, with far less pomp and ceremony. She also would say two words against having a president: ‘President Thatcher’.

This is more or less what a friend said to me last week, except it was: ‘President Johnson’. Equally heinous.

Wouldn’t it be possible to have a president who was mainly a figurehead who provided the services of a monarch, without the pomp, and who we could vote for, or not, as the case might be. A bit like the Irish president.

We’d still have the prime minister as head of government. But importantly, both can be democratically elected (or as democratically as our first-past-the-post electoral system currently allows).

Several issues come to mind. Firstly, this would not happen any time soon. Clearly the royals are as popular as ever, albeit with a smallish increase in people expressing republican views.

The recent passing of the queen made expressing certain views rather more unpopular, though maybe more got away with it more on Twitter. Hurrah for free speech!

Who knows how popular Charles will be? Maybe the big ceremonial of the coronation will provide a further outpouring of monarchism. Maybe, in due course, he’ll be more likely than his mother was to abdicate in favour of his son, William, who will probably be more popular.

Then there’s the cost. In the UK, the royals spend more than £345m of taxpayers’ money a year. When all of them have more than enough to live on without this ‘handout’. All this when there’s this cost-of-living-crisis and a seriously underfunded NHS.

Income from tourism? Get out of here! France does perfectly well for tourism. No one comes to the UK to see the queen. Well, some do, obviously, but they’ve been invited by the queen or the government and they’re not tourists.

To be clear, I am not advocating tearing down the symbols of monarchy in the UK, so tourists could still visit Buckingham palace if they really wanted to. As for attracting tourists for the ‘big events’, VisitBritain statistics showed that in 1981 and 1986, the years of the last two big royal weddings, tourism revenue fell.

There’s no getting away from the fact that our monarchy has a lot of colonial baggage. Times have changed for sure, and it seems the queen was respectful and supportive of the commonwealth leaders (Nelson Mandela’s daughter, for example, praised the queen who was ‘good friends’ with Mandela) in a way that I feel sure some who ‘love our queen’ would be slightly less keen on.

Cornell University professor Mukoma Wa Ngugi wrote after the queen’s death: ‘If the queen had apologized for slavery, colonialism and neocolonialism and urged the crown to offer reparations for the millions of lives taken in her/their names, then perhaps I would do the human thing and feel bad. As a Kenyan, I feel nothing. This theater is absurd.’

Meanwhile, two men have been questioned under caution by officers investigating cash-for-honours allegations linked to king Charles III’s charity, the Prince’s Foundation. The queen successfully lobbied the government to change a draft law in order to conceal her ‘embarrassing’ private wealth from the public, according to documents discovered by the Guardian.

So there we have it, they don’t bring in money, they cost us money, some royals are corrupt, some are probably racist, at least one has been accused of sexual abuse, they are part of European colonial history, they are undemocratic, and they are not there by the grace of god, either.

Nesrine Malik in the Guardian said: ‘It is a comforting idea that we are one nation united beneath our betters.’ And this is a major problem. Nobody in the royal family is better than me, or you. Some are in fact far worse, mentioning no names.

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