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Royal family

Royal family, Photo: Carfax2 / Wikimedia Commons / cropped from original / licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0, linked at bottom

One job for the future British republic will be to reveal the hidden loot of the Windsors, writes Sean Ledwith

 The state-enforced reverence inflicted on the population over the past week has been the most explicit reminder of the privileged status of the family at the heart of the British establishment. Another has been the confirmation that the new king will not pay inheritance tax, unlike virtually everyone else in the upper income bracket.

Almost 30 years ago, Tory prime minister John Major devised a get-out clause that enables monarchs to dodge the 40% levy that applies to assets valued at over £325 000. In 1992, there was widespread outrage that the Queen presumed her cringing subjects would foot the bill for the Windsor Castle fire. The backlash forced her to ‘voluntarily’ pay income and capital gains tax for the first time. To sugar this bitter pill for the tight-fisted monarch, Major offered the sweetener on inheritance tax that her son will now benefit from. The supine Major lamely tried to justify the royal tax dodge:

‘I believe that is necessary to protect the independence of the monarchy, and I would not wish to detract from that independence in any way. The concerns that I would have were the arrangements to be any other would be the danger of the assets of the monarchy being salami-sliced away by capital taxation through generations, thus changing the nature of the institution in a way that few people in this country would welcome.

This spurious excuse for the gluttonous greed of the House of Windsor was reiterated by another Tory prime minister in 2013. David Cameron (distantly related to the monarch) devised a Memorandum of Understanding which stated it would be clearly inappropriate for inheritance tax to be applied to assets which are held by the Queen as sovereign rather than as a private individual. The memorandum added:

‘The monarchy as an institution needs sufficient private resources to enable it to continue to perform its traditional role in national life. …In relation to assets which can properly be regarded as private, the arrangements provide that inheritance tax will not be paid on gifts of bequests from one sovereign to the next, but will be payable on gifts and bequests to anyone else.

Anyone else inheriting assets over £325 000 would expect to pay the 40% inheritance tax. The Windsors are exempt as the fear from the ruling class  is that their wealth would steadily diminish with each successive monarch.

Smoke and mirrors

These wheezes by Tory prime ministers mean Charles and the rest of the royal rabble can look forward to living off our backs for decades to come. Estimating the size of the Windsor fortune is notoriously difficult as inevitably every effort is made by the ruling class to hide it behind smoke and mirrors. It is also scattered across multiple locations and in multiple forms. One of the most substantial is the Duchy of Lancaster estate, which Charles now inherits, with an estimated value of £652 million and with an annual revenue of £24 million.

Made up largely of rural areas in the North of England, the Duchy comprises of over 45,000 hectares of prime real estate and is also the recipient of massive farming subsidies from the government. The monarch also runs the Crown Estate which includes London’s Regent Street and most of the St James’s area in the centre of the capital. This includes assets estimated at over £15 billion, 25% of which is dished out to the Windsors as part of the sovereign grant, or what used to be known as the Civil List.

This includes the vast collection of archives and paintings which are supposedly held in the name of the nation but actually can only be accessed on the whim of the monarch. It also includes half of the UK beaches and coastline, and ownership of the seabed up to 12 miles out! As if that was not enough, Charles will take over 10 castles, including the well-known royal bolt-holes at Balmoral and Sandringham.

Undemocratic

Amid all the fawning and flummery on display this week, there is a predictable lack of coverage of how Elizabeth II secretively ensured that there was minimal parliamentary scrutiny of these ill-gotten gains. For an incredible 1,000 times in her 70-year reign she deployed a little-known prerogative power of the British constitution known as Queen’s Consent, which gave her exclusive access to proposed legislation. Although there is token approval required from the House of Lords, the nature of her interventions is permanently shielded from public view. Charles will now inherit this blatantly undemocratic power which the House of Commons describes as one of the most significant elements of the UK constitution.

It is little wonder the Windsors refer to themselves as The Firm. They operate as typical corporate sharks but have the advantage of centuries of practice at exploiting and mystifying those beneath them. Thankfully there is a growing minority who are outraged that there is seemingly no limit on the amount that can be splurged on the funeral of a monarch at a time when 14 million of her subjects-including 4 million children- are living in poverty. On the day the whole rotten bunch are thrown in the dustbin of history, one immediate job for the workers’ republic will be to open up the royal accounts to public view for the first time.

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Tagged under: Class Democracy Tax Monarchy
Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith is a Counterfire member and Lecturer in History at York College, where he is also UCU branch negotiator. Sean is also a regular contributor to Marx and Philosophy Review of Books and Culture Matters

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