What else

IssueOctober - November 2022
Comment by Rebecca Elson-Watkins

As I write this column, I am watching the state funeral of queen Elizabeth II, and my mind is boggling. The first thought is: ‘Well, this is the one thing we are “world-leading” at these days – pomp and circumstance and pageantry – at the expense of the taxpayer.’ I mean, yikes.

We are in the middle of a cost of living crisis. Thousands, if not millions, of people are genuinely afraid of either starving or freezing this winter, or both. Electricity, food, fuel – the price of everything is through the roof.

But we have millions of pounds for this.

The planet is on fire. Billions of people are feeling the effects of climate change today: floods in Pakistan, famine in Madagascar, glaciers and ice caps and snow peaks are disappearing alarmingly fast. The food and water supplies of billions of people around the globe are at risk. Thousands, if not millions, of plant and animal species are endangered. Species we haven’t even discovered yet are going extinct.

But we have millions of pounds for this.

Our NHS is on its knees. Staff, traumatised after the pandemic and insulted by real-terms pay cuts, are quitting in droves. Walk-in health centres are a thing of the past in most places. Nurses are using foodbanks. Face-to-face GP appointments are as rare as rocking-horse shit. Cancer appointments have been cancelled today. And don’t even get me started on waiting lists.

But we have millions of pounds for this.

Internationally, violence against women and girls is endemic, despots run amok and disinformation is an ongoing and serious problem. Two billion people do not have access to clean drinking water. Education and healthcare are privileges, not human rights accessible to all as they should be. War rages in Yemen, Ukraine and Ethiopia. The humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan continues to deepen.

But we have millions of pounds for this.

Aside from the fact that there are literally hundreds of ways that the British state could have better spent this money, there are also the many problems inherent in monarchy.

One thing watching the state funeral has reminded me of are the deep connections between monarchy, military and church – connections and institutions that, historically, have been used to control and subjugate The People. Hell, we’re even called ‘subjects’.

Then there’s the fact that the new sovereign pays no inheritance tax on one of the biggest inheritances that many of us will ever hear of. The crown estate is estimated at a value of £15.2 billion. Usually any inheritance over £325,000 is subject to a 40 percent tax rate.

Some 25 percent of the profits of the crown estate are given to the monarch each year as the sovereign grant, which she/he doesn’t pay tax on – the result of a 1993 piece of legislation from John Major’s government designed to quiet public questions over the cost of the monarchy to the British people.

It’s time to resurrect those questions. The campaign group Republic estimate the true cost of the monarchy, including policing, building maintenance and staff costs, to be around £345 million pounds per year.

There is also the quiet power, the lack of accountability.

We need only to look in prince Andrew’s direction to see walking, talking proof of that. How the money was or is being raised for his now-infamous out-of-court settlement of a sexual assault case remains unclear, like many royal finances.

The law is supposed to be applicable equally to all persons, without fear or favour. The allegations against prince Andrew are extremely serious. Yet we are still waiting for the British state to take them seriously.

There are of course so many problems with the monarchy – I could write a series of books, never mind one column – but I will mention one of the more recent actions that left a bad taste in my mouth.

On 13 September, it was reported that up to 100 Clarence House staff had been given their redundancy notices as the new king prepared to relocate to Buckingham palace. Some of those people had worked there for decades. What a way to show people you appreciate their hard work, eh? The last thing anyone needs in 2022 is sudden redundancy.

So, it’s time. It’s time to have a real conversation about abolishing the monarchy.

In fact, it is long overdue. We Brits can continue to lead the world in pomp and circumstance and pageantry (if we so wish) without continuing to keep one family on a pedestal.

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