The monarchy serves only to normalise inequality so let Harry and Meghan go forth and shake it up, writes Sofie Mason
The royal family is in for another horrible annus. As your hastily appointed royal correspondent, I can’t say that I’m really that bothered about the monarchy one way or another. After all, they are a very wealthy family who avoid any real scrutiny of their finances and avoid paying tax (apart from what they consider worth paying, bless!) but then there are a number of those kinds of families among our ruling elite who throw their weight around far more conspicuously, offensively and disastrously than Betty and her brood.
Randy Andy’s staggering dimwittery in remaining best buddies with a convicted sex offender as well as his eye-watering attempts to combine his alleged inability to sweat with being a war hero, were all part of the soap opera we know and endure. Claiming to have been to a Pizza Express in Woking has kept the nation amused for months. But Harry and Meghan negotiating an exit from The Firm may be just a bit more serious in that it attracts attention to the cost and multiplicity of royals rather than just how shit they are at their job compared to the Queen.
The monarchy has adjusted and reinvented itself several times – like capitalism, adapting to survive. No doubt it will again with the much-discussed proposal to ‘slim down’ the costs to the tax-payer by only subsidising the ‘senior royals’. After all, in other monarchies, most of which remain popular, minor royals pursue their own career paths. Only in Britain does the establishment attach such blimpish mystique to the crown that no downsizing has yet taken place. The Sussexes, by wanting out, have hopefully done the country a favour.
It was telling that on the last two Question Times, when the audience was asked if anyone objected to what Harry and Meghan were doing, not a single hand went up and last Thursday the audience repeatedly asked the chair to discuss something more important to their lives than this royal ‘Love Island’ saga. This seemed to me to be in complete contrast to the establishment’s apoplectic response, whipping their media lackeys into a frenzy of outrage, kicking up a dust storm to prevent anyone looking too closely at whether the monarchy should exist and how much they cost us.
Not a single politician on the Question Time panels ventured near any detail on costs but I refer you to John Rees’ excellent article as well as a report from Republic. The estimated total annual cost of the monarchy is £345m which means that each ‘working royal’ costs the taxpayer around £19.1m a year on average. The Sovereign Grant (a funding formula that pays for costs such as royal household salaries, official travel and the upkeep of royal palaces out of the 15% to 25% of surplus revenue from the Crown Estate which is a publicly owned property portfolio of huge swathes of land) was £82.2m in 2018/19 but does not include the costs of police and military security, armed services ceremonial duties, royal ceremonies or local government costs for royal visits.
So the royals are very expensive and the money could certainly be better spent elsewhere. Their contribution in attracting tourism and investment to the UK, often quoted as the financial justification for shelling out for Madge, is not impressive. Consultancy Brand Finance estimated in 2017 that the monarchy’s annual contribution to the UK economy was around £1.8bn a year, drawing in an additional £550m of tourism revenues a year and an increase in trade from the Royal Family acting as ambassadors supposedly worth £150m a year. That’s certainly more than the current cost to the tax payer for their upkeep but once these figures are put in the context of overseas visitors spending an estimated £22.5bn in the UK in 2016 and total UK exports totalling £543bn then the additional royal-related revenues start to look somewhat trivial.
If anything, the abolition of the monarchy may generate more revenue with that well-worn gimmick of a ‘closing down sale’ and ‘last tour ever’ followed by monetised shrines to these dinosaurs. Buckingham Palace, for example, is only open for around two months a year so imagine the increase in income if the monarchy moved out or indeed died dramatically in one or more of the rooms.
So let the baby dinosaurs run free and find their place in the world. Were they bullied? Probably - by their family but in particular by the press (and especially Piers Morgan, The Sun and The Mirror) whose demonisation of the couple is undoubtedly coloured by the hacking scandal in which Harry is a litigant against them plus, of course, Meghan’s case against The Daily Mail. Was it racist? Probably – but I suspect they were bullied just as much because Meghan is an American woman with a career as much as a woman of colour.
But let’s not get too sentimental about them, they’ll be more than fine in a circle of stratospheric affluence we will never experience, hob-nobbing with the less than 1% of the world’s population who are millionaires. Let them run away from hanging around as ‘spares’ at royal events, let them skip off to become celebrities like the Beckhams and Kardashians and free to make more money than they're currently limited to as royals.
There is no point debating whether Harry should exploit his royal brand, he has it in his DNA and can’t shrug it off so let him use it as a celebrity vehicle – for a chain of Harry’s bars, or Archie’s baby clothes or Sussex mental health clinics. In a world where traditional advertising has less and less traction, and fame-obsessed social media is often the only way to cut through to a mass market, celebrity is more important than it has ever been. So good luck to them - if they are commercially savvy they will succeed and if they fail (Victoria Beckham, after all, has made big losses on her fashion line and Jamie Oliver’s chain of restaurants crashed spectacularly last year), I’m sure Charles will soften their fall with his own enormous personal wealth.
Most of all, I hope they speak out and cause mayhem by not toeing the line, by not doing the bidding of the government of the day, by not remaining silent. The monarchy is the least of our problems at the moment but the establishment outrage we are witnessing has everything to do with the belief that the monarchy brings political stability to the country and that is priceless:
“After all, if people in Britain can be got to accept one incredibly wealthy individual whose position as the nominal head of state and church, and chief of the armed forces, is hereditary, then why should they not accept an entire ruling elite based on similarly undemocratic principles. The existence of the monarchy is based on the idea of perpetual inequality as the natural order.” (John Rees)
Of course, it would be absurd to rely on Harry and Meghan to challenge the establishment – we can only do that ourselves in the streets and in our workplaces – but, with a Queen in her nineties, the fragility of the royal house is more worrying than ever for our ruling class. So let the Sussexes flit off, speak out, say anything that will continue the descent of the royal soap opera into a royal horror show so that this archaic institution, that serves only to normalise inequality, can fall at last.
Sofie Mason is a political activist, arts campaigner, trade union official and occasionally works for all-female plumbing company Stopcocks.
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- “Life-long member of the non-pretty working classes” - All Woman review
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- A Marxist guide to crime drama
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