The royal family is, frankly, a national embarrassment. Throughout the world Britain is most famous for this feudal monarchy. We are seen as a land of fairy tales, a fantasy Disney World of medieval pageantry.
We are internationally celebrated for one glorious spectacle after another – last year the royal wedding; this year the Queen’s diamond jubilee. Our Parliament cannot even start its business each year without a lavish state opening.
This is Britain in 2012 – a country which has lost an empire but found a new role as ‘Ye Olde England’ theme park.
None of this makes me proud to be British.
No wonder I am sometimes asked, when abroad, if Britain is a democracy. And the reality, of course, is that monarchy and democracy are incompatible.
We have a Head of State who was not elected but simply became Queen because she was the daughter of the previous monarch, George VI. A hereditary monarchy is an anachronism in a 21st century democracy.
And incidentally if the Queen had had a younger brother, he would have been crowned, not she. It is only in the last year that it has been decided that if the eldest child of Prince William and Kate is a girl she would succeed her father as monarch.
But the royal family remains resolutely anti-Catholic. No Roman Catholic can succeed to the throne.
The monarchy legitimises a class-stratified society based on the accident of birth. It encourages us to respect people not because of their achievements or their qualities as people, but simply because of their inherited titles.
And in recent weeks the deference and royal toadying has been excessively nauseating. It seems, for example, that the broadcasters, led by the BBC, see themselves as a free PR service for the royal family. The unctuous fawn-fest has been an insult to a free society. And the royalist trivia that has been covered must surely embarrass the genuine professionals working in those news organisations.
This adulation of the royal family by the broadcasters means that there is far less scrutiny of their activities than there should be. And there will be even less in future as the Government has scandalously removed the royal family from the scope of the Freedom of Information Act – following lobbying by Prince Charles.
And the lobbying activities of the Prince – who is unpopular even amongst supporters of the royal family – are extensive. He is notorious for firing off letters and demanding meetings with Government Ministers, so that he can bend their ears about his pet causes and his personal interests. And it takes a very strong minded Minister to resist this princely lobbying. The Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne readily acceded to the royal demands for a new ‘pay’ deal, giving them a percentage of the income from the Crown estates, which has greatly increased their annual income.
And, incidentally, in the Mother of Parliaments, MPs are not allowed to criticise members of the royal family. And the Queen and Prince Charles must be asked – in private and without our knowledge – for consent before Parliament can debate any legislation that affects their private interests.
Each year the PR department of the Monarchy publishes accounts full of massaged figures, purporting to show that the royal family costs us only a matter of pence each per year. The reality is that we have a very expensive monarchy which costs us at least £200 million a year. Prince Charles has a property empire valued at more than £700 million. The Royal Art Collection is valued at £10 billion. And how many palaces and stately homes do they have? Some are privately owned; others officially belong to the state but are for the use of the royals. Just think – Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, Windsor Castle, Sandringham House, Balmoral Castle, Hollyrood House Palace. These are the ones that immediately occurred to me but I’ve probably forgotten a few!
I’d like to see Britain become a grown-up country. It’s time to “put away childish things”. And that includes getting rid of a self-serving unelected Head of State.
Time for a Republic.