With the Diamond Jubilee celebrations taking place today and tomorrow, the as yet unspecified but surely significant burden on the taxpayer will no doubt prey on the minds of many. In a time where incomes are stretched thinner and thinner, we need to question exactly what the monarchy brings to us, as individuals and as a nation.
The British monarchy’s financial ties with the government can be be dated back to King George III in 1760. Struggling to pay debts, he proposed to Parliament that he surrender the hereditary revenues from Royal estates in return for the government covering the cost of the Royal Household, and writing off his debts. Parliament agreed, guessing that in the future, the estate revenues would exceed the Royal Family upkeep. The gamble paid off; nowadays, the Royal estates generate around £200m, while the cost of the Royal Family is around £40m, or 65p per person per year. Despite this, in our current economic climate, with diesel costing over £1.50 per litre and energy bills double what they were in 2007, the £40m cost remains a controversial issue.
According to a study by IPSOS MORI, in 2006, 18% of UK citizens were in favour of abolishing the monarchy in favour of a Republican state. 72% preferred the monarchy, whilst 10% were unsure. The current Republican organisation in the UK is supported by individuals from many different backgrounds and political affiliations and their beliefs focus on the idea that “our democracy should inspire a common sense of ‘we the people’, together owning, controlling and taking responsibility for our political affairs”. Slightly more dramatically, they claim that “most of the problems in our democracy can be traced back to one source: the Crown”.
Personally, I’d attach a little more significance if a specific, ‘traced back’ problem were outlined, as opposed to simply stating that “monarchy crushes our democratic spirit”, but with the UK Republican party claiming to have over ten million supporters, and countless anti-monarchy webpages appearing on Google, these views cannot be ignored. The cause has inspired some fairly extremist views. The somewhat lower-budget online community, ‘www.throneout.com’ boasts the tagline – “they’re overpaid, inbred sponges” next to a photo of a member of the Norwegian Royal Family whose eyes have been coloured in to resemble a devil. Microsoft Paint put to excellent use.
But how does our current student generation feel? After asking a number of students, with a range of political stances, the feedback was varied. A common feeling was the recognition that our Royals are ‘useful’ in boosting tourism (one likened his feelings towards them to how the Parisians feel about the Eiffel Tower), but that they saw no reason to be emotionally attached to them. Many felt the system of monarchy itself was not progressive, and the ritual of bowing to the Queen and standing when a Royal enters the room outdated and elitist. A particularly interesting comment was that the Royals may detract from the ‘true’ British identity, suggesting that without the institution we may find our identity is shown more strongly elsewhere. Upon asking some of our international students what they had most strongly associated with Britain before coming to study here, the resounding feedback was indeed “The Queen”, but also “tea”, and one, perhaps worryingly, “Wayne Rooney”. Mr Rooney aside, the idea that the Royals overshadow internationally the rest of what Britain is about is quite pertinent.
There was, however, a large amount of support for the Royals, and particularly the Queen. A second-year Theology student said, “Although it seems outdated, having a constitutional monarch is a great idea, a head of state who remains detached from the corruption of politics, a figurehead who is known by people of many generations”. This view of the monarch being a source of comfort and stability in a world of ever-changing political ideals was shared by many. Alongside the more light-hearted “the Queen is so cute!”, others expressed admiration at the her sixty years of service, continuing into her late eighties, whilst several suggested the Royals bring the UK “a bit of soul and culture”. One suggested that the Queen herself has had an incredible influence on how the modern monarchy is run, in the respect that she is “continuously out among the people”, and “appears to be a very dedicated, compassionate and down-to-earth monarch”.
Indeed, the recent BBC series ‘The Diamond Queen’ demonstrates exactly that, showing footage of her visits to Ground Zero, Dubai, and, vitally, the Republic of Ireland in 2011. A survey by CATI in 2007 showed that 73% of Brits felt the Royal family were more ‘human’ now than in past years, with such frequent public engagements – both internationally and domestically – surely playing their part.
Regardless of the individual’s view on the institution of monarchy, it cannot be denied that our historic Royal family inspire a great deal of interest and respect within Britain and globally. Personal fondness (or lack thereof) of our Royals aside, with the Olympic games approaching, Britain is subjecting itself to international scrutiny. With the 2011 riots still fresh in the minds of many, I personally can’t imagine the UK is in a position to downplay the impressive PR that the Windsors and Royal traditions afford us.