Wednesday, 24 July 2013

A Royal Welcome

We have a new Royal baby (third in line for the throne for anyone counting), and already the Internet is saturated with anti-royal, pro-republic blogs and posts, as well as some nice coverage too.  Now when it comes to debates about the Royal Family, I find I am not a strong Royalist nor am I anti-monarchy either.  I’ll cover the anti-royal objections in a moment, but I think it’s worth saying, first off, that in my view the Queen deserves a tremendous amount of praise and support for her 60+ years service.  I think she has conducted herself with a great deal of credit over the years - and in a time in which so many people undignify themselves just to get noticed in the faux-ironic world of celebrity-ism, it is wonderful to see a lady monarch (perhaps the most famous women in the world) conduct her affairs with such dignity and grace.

In a nation that has changed so much these past 60 years, it is worth remembering that the monarchy stands as a symbol for sovereignty and leadership – one that continues to reflect the Christian ethos of direction and willingness to serve others.  The cultural changes I mentioned are to do with attitudes and perspectives, not science, technology and industry (which obviously is better).  60 years ago young people seemed to have more respect for police and teachers, and there seemed to be a greater respect for our nation’s religion, traditions, laws and institutions.  I think one can see in the Queen a symbol of many of the qualities this country used to have in abundance before the wave of counterculture flowed into our nation.  That said, I don’t think we should grumble – there aren’t many countries that can say they have had a 1953-2013 as successful, progressive and peaceful as ours.  As Cecil Rhodes once said, to be English is to have been fortunate enough to have “won first prize in the lottery of life”.

What of the objections from the anti-royals – don’t they make some valid points? 
Not as far as I can see - I don’t think they make much sense.  The anti-royal, pro-republican diatribe I’ve seen written is largely focused on the financial cost of the monarchy to the nation, and the objection that monarchy is counter to democracy by devaluing the Parliamentary system.  I’ll deal with the cost in a moment, but on the latter; I don’t know why anyone would argue that the monarchy is counter to democracy by devaluing the Parliamentary system, because we have a democratically elected Parliament that acts (at least legally and formally) for the people, where any deference to the Crown produces Royal action under the advice of Parliament, so there is no undermining of democracy. The executive authority of the monarchy actually acts as guarantor against Parliamentary misuse of constitutional power (we all know what happened with Cromwell’s Republic), so those who want the State to be a republic ought to be careful what they wish for.  Moreover, if you want to throw in the ‘democracy’ trump card, it appears that democracy should favour a monarchy, as the most recent poll showed that between 70-80% of people are said to be in favour of the Royal Family, so it’s not as though popular opinion is being undermined. 

When I see, for example, the French equivalent with the political impartiality of the French Legion of Honour, the Presidential situation, and the continual jostling for positional power, I can’t help but think the British monarchy is not outmoded or elitist – far from it.  It seems like a breath of fresh air in comparison.  Personally I think the objections to the monarchy involve the raising of issues that do not directly affect very many people at all.  The truth is, I think, society is so vast and complex now that your life won’t be made any worse by having a monarchy, and it would be no better by living in a UK republic.  Conversely, it seems clear from the recent jubilee celebrations, William and Kate’s recent wedding, and now the arrival of a newborn that many people do derive immense pride and pleasure from the Royal Family – and long may it continue. 

I won’t deny that there is too much lionisation of public figures, too much media obsession, and a pretty stultifying celebrity adoration in too many pockets of our nation, but that’s not an argument against the monarchy, it is simply a reflection of the limitation of celebrity-ism, and the meagre rewards it actually brings people ensnared by it.

But what about the cost of the Royal Family? You can’t deny that the money could be better spent on nurses, teachers, etc.
Sure I can – that’s completely the wrong way to look at it.  The cost/benefit analysis of having a Royal Family should only be about whether the pros of monarchy outweigh the cons (which, by the way, factors in a lot more than just financial expenditure), not about the optimum number of nurses and teachers.  The cost/benefit analysis of whether there are too few nurses or teachers should only be about finding the optimum number of nurses and teachers, not about whether the pros of monarchy outweigh the cons*. 

It’s worth asking; just how much does the monarchy cost the taxpayer?  Well, estimates vary from £100 to £200 million per year (the most recent being £204 million, with possible costs being overlooked in that estimate).  Let’s be generous to the republicans and say it costs £300 million, and let’s even forget all the revenue the Royals bring into this country.  If we pretend we have a £300 million deficit, this means it costs every person in the country about £4.30 per year to have a Royal Family – which works out at slightly less than 1.2p per day per person.  With a 70-80% popularity rating in the polls, any true espouser of reflecting the democratic feeling ought to be happy with that, even if they find themselves in the 20-30% minority.

But there’s something else that’s overlooked by republicans.  If we took all the Royal assets and accumulative wealth, had a joint presidency/parliamentary system, and put all that money back into the economy, everyone would be better off, right?  Wrong.  Most of the Royal assets are in equity that is not currently injected into the economy.  If the Royals sold everything and put the equity in the banking system then everybody else in the UK would be worse off, not better.  You see, the mega rich people who hoard their wealth in stocks, bonds and international currency actually make us all financially better off by doing this, not worse off.  I think it is because most people don’t grasp this that they are forever having enthusiastic paroxysms about economic stimulus systems that state they will put more money in our banks and lighten the load of the mega rich. It’s nonsense!  Of course, it would be better if the mega rich hoarders injected that money into third world crises, but the republicans aren’t arguing that – they are wrongly arguing that Royal expenditure makes Britain ‘worse off’.

Hang on, I hear you object, if the mega rich man gave some of his wealth to feed the UK’s homeless, then that’s good for the economy, because the more the rich man spends the more the hungry have to eat.  Here’s what you are overlooking – the food that feeds the homeless people doesn’t just come out of thin air – it has to affect the economy somewhere.  If he feeds the homeless then the cost of that food is impacted in the rest of the economy – either others eat less or others pay more for their food.  I’m not saying it is not moral to feed the homeless – but the argument about spreading the wealth in the economy is mathematically wrong.  While the Royal assets are kept out of the economic system, almost everybody in the UK is better off.

In summary, I think the net pleasure of having a Royal Family outweighs the net negatives (public opinion evidently supports this view) – and I for one am proud of our Queen’s past 60 years and impressed with the legacy her sovereignty has left.  Long may she continue. 

* General tip here; in any analysis of costs and benefits, you need to ensure you’re getting the right answer to the right question, not the right answer to the wrong question, or (worse) the wrong answer to the wrong question.  Take a recent example – the Tory policy of capping benefits at £26,000 because “No one on benefits should receive more than someone working”.  That maxim is pretty sound to me, but it’s the wrong point to justify a benefit cap – the question of a benefit cap should be primarily about a proficient marginal tax rate associated with the withdrawal of benefits when a full or part-time job is acquired at a low wage by the householder, not about whether “No one on benefits should receive more than someone working” – because it misses the obvious permutation that 1) Benefit caps at a fairly arbitrary benchmark of £26,000 may not be socio-politically proficient and 2) No one on benefits should receive more than someone working are both prudent observations  .

** Photo courtesy of