The latest report from Republic, the anti-royalty pressure group, will be out soon. Entitled Royal Expenses: Counting the Cost of the Monarchy it makes the claim that cost of royalty in this country is way beyond . . . what any other country in Europe spends on its royalty. By its calculations, the Queen and the rest of the royal family cost us £334 million and Republic compares this, among other things, with the same amount of money that the National Health Service spent on cancer drugs last year.
Republic would like to see the monarchy abolished and the Queen replaced with an elected, democratic head of state who would represent the nation independently of our politicians.
I’ve little doubt that this will happen in due course. Ever since King William, royalty has been a completely outdated position in the scheme of things, and if and when a sufficiently serious controversy arises then it could be dispensed with. Indeed, at the time of Princess Diana’s death and memorial service, the popularity of Queen Elizabth II reached a very low ebb indeed due to the ineptitude of her advisors, and if they hadn’t bestirred themselves immediately afterwards and rapidly improved her public relations then royalty in this country, if not entirely dispensed with, could easily have subsided to a far more modest role, such as those of Sweden, Belgium or Spain.
As it is, our Queen has no constitutional role at all in any true sense of the term. Proponents of royalty says she has, of course, and may talk of the frequent consultations between the Queen and the Prime Minister, or her Queen’s Speech at the opening of the new Parliament or of her ‘necessary’ signature under every new Act of Parliament. But, quite simply, the Queen has to do what she is told to do by her staff of civil servants. She’s permanently at their beck and call. She’s the least free person in the whole country. For example, when David Cameron (that is, his civil ervants) had reached what he thought was a tricky negotiation position with Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, and needed a bit of help last week. the 83 year-old Queen was yanked from whatever she was doing at the time (during the horse-racing season too!) to travel post-haste to Germany to have a chat with Angela.
I find it difficult to understand why an elected president would help us. We already have an elected Prime Minister and if his decisions or behaviour need modifying then we have a House of Lords which acts as a sort of collective president. It’s not at all a satisfactory one it’s true, but, nevertheless, it still has some constitutional power — that which the Queen is supposed to have.
Personally I would like to free our Queen from her servitude. I feel sorry for her actually. But until she or her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, start complaining, I don’t see what we can do, or need to do, about it. Certainly, far too much is spent on royalty, and the Queen and her family make a great deal of private money out of the situation by way of estates and wealth, but we have our democratic system — that is, our media and comedians — as they’ve always done — which constantly bring any extravagencies or idiosyncracies to our attention.