Monday, 28 May 2018

The UK Monarchy and the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists who Pay for It

After writing about the Royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle recently, I got to thinking about the overall cost of the Monarchy to UK taxpayers. Estimates put the cost of the wedding itself at around £32 million, but this is just an added extra. The more you look into the matter, the more you wonder why we put up with this historical privilege?

Every year a full report on the Royal finances is published and this year’s report shows that the Sovereign Grant, the money paid the Queen and other Royals by UK taxpayers was £43 million. Funding for the Sovereign Grant also comes from a percentage of the profits of the Crown Estate revenue (initially set at 15%) and will be reviewed every five years. Last year these profits totalled £304 million. This property though was in some way plundered in the past from whoever owned the buildings and land.

The Queen also generates income from her land and property portfolio. These assets are known as the Duchy of Lancaster and are held in trust for the sovereign. The Duchy is managed and run for the Queen and she receives all the net profits – about £12.5 million a year at the last count. This income is referred to as the Privy Purse. Again this land was plundered at some stage in history by the Royals ancestors.

The Duchy of Lancaster is one of two royal duchies, the other being the Duchy of Cornwall which provides income to the Prince of Wales. The Prince of Wales is entitled to the annual net revenue surplus of the Duchy, which was worth £20.8 million last year. Prince Charles also receives money from the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy.

All of which leads to staggeringly casual wasteful spending on the part of the Royals. Prince Andrew squandered £14,692 on a round trip to see the golf at Muirfield. Prince Edward, meanwhile, took a £46,198 charter flight to Sofia, Bucharest and Ljubljana. And big brother Prince Charles blew an impressive £246,160 on a private jet to Nelson Mandela's funeral.

According to Republic, a group which campaigns for a democratic alternative to the Monarchy, the true cost of the Monarchy to the British taxpayer is actually £334 million a year – nearly 10 times more than the figure published by the Royal Family. It points to the fact that the royal family's security bill, for instance, is picked up by the Metropolitan Police, while the costs of royal visits are borne by local councils.

The latest figures show the highest earning 10% paid about a third, 34% of their income in tax, but the bottom 10% pay about 47% of their income in tax (direct and indirect tax). So not only do we collectively have to fork out for the Monarchy, but the poorest pay the most as a percentage of their income.

All of which reminded me of the book The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists written by Robert Tressell which was published after his death in 1914. Tressell was frustrated by his fellow workers who thought that a better life is "not for the likes of them". Although writing mainly about the exploitation of workers by the capitalist class, the Monarchy also fits the bill very nicely for a description of an exploitative relationship.

The hero of the book, Frank Owen, is a socialist who sees that the capitalist system is the real source of the poverty he sees all around him. In vain he tries to convince his fellow workers of his world view, but finds that their education has trained them to distrust their own thoughts and to rely on those of their "betters". Much of the book consists of conversations between Owen and the others, or more often of lectures by Owen in the face of their jeering; this was presumably based on Tressell's own experiences.

Why do we let them get away with it? Almost a hundred years before Percy Shelley wrote a poem The Mask of Anarchy following the Peteloo massacre in 1819 in Manchester, when cavalry charged into a crowd of 60,000–80,000 who had gathered to demand the reform of parliamentary representation.

Shelley ends the poem with these lines, resurrected somewhat by Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour party leader, at last year’s Glastonbury festival:

Rise, like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number!
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you:
Ye are many—they are few

Two hundred years later we still do let them get away with it although the killing is more by stealth now, like benefit claimants committing suicide because of the misery of the government’s sanctions regime. When will we rise like lions?

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