What the Royal Family actually does

February 4, 2020
It would be insufficient to conclude that the British royals are just a monumentally expensive waste of space.

… And What Do You Do?  What the Royal Family Don’t Want You to Know
Norman Baker
Biteback Publishing, 2019
390 pages

When conversing with commoners, members of the British Royal Family are instructed to always ask the question "And what do you do?" For, after all, this gives the working class something to talk about – their job. Former Liberal Democrat Minister in the British parliament Norman Baker says, however, that it is high time the question was returned in kind by asking of the royals: "And what do you do?"

So how do the royals fill their day? Let us count the ways.

  1. Plaque-unveilings

It seems to be mandatory to have a regal presence to unveil a plaque at the opening of a local council’s latest pride-and-joy. The royals’ ribbon-cutting function is not just ceremonial, however. Strictly-observed royal etiquette on such occasions (the lowly people must never speak without being spoken to, arrive after the royal personage, sit in the presence of royalty or look down upon a royal from a height) delivers an important lesson about the subordinate place of the great unwashed in Britain’s social hierarchy.

  1. The King was in his counting-house …….

Counting their spondulicks is something the royals are seriously good at. They used to be given a straight-up government bung (under the "Civil List" budget item) but this made just who was paying for their lavish lifestyle a bit too obvious to the taxpayer. Public funding of the royals was best dealt with more circumspectly, and more remuneratively, through the "Sovereign Grant", which siphons off 25% (about £100 million a year) of the profits from leasing access to the royals’ land holdings (or "Duchies", a fancy-pants regal term for property asset portfolios).

The Queen has title to the Duchy of Lancaster (45,000 acres of prime agricultural land, most of the Lancashire coast, all the sea-beds around Britain, a golf course in Wales and other valuable properties across England) and Prince Charles has the Duchy of Cornwall (160 miles of British coastline, some rivers, many residential, commercial and farming properties, "The Oval" cricket ground, and gold, silver, tungsten and iridium mines in Cornwall and other counties. These are all public lands, valued at about £14 billion in total, gifted by the state to the royals.

No one knows exactly how rich the royals are, but an apt adjective would be "stonking". Two decades ago, the Queen was valued at £1.2 billion, while the deceased Queen Mother’s estate weighed in at £70 million. Every one of the 15 "senior royals" (including Charles’ two sons via Diana — William and Harry) hit the scales at over £20 million each, courtesy of their pocket money from the family’s Duchy profits.

  1. Tax accountancy for fun and profit!

The royals are a dab hand at wealth maximisation through tax minimisation. They are exempt from inheritance tax, capital gains tax and stamp duty on share transactions. They were exempt from income tax until a series of palace scandals in the early 1990s prompted a PR change of course whereby the royals pledged to pay income tax — on a "voluntary" basis, however, and only then after huge "deductibles" for "business expenses" such as the upkeep for Charles’ polo ponies. 

As well as this legal tax avoidance, Monarchy Inc is adept at underhanded tax evasion — a majority of the Queen’s in-theory taxable income is sheltered from Britain’s tax authorities in offshore tax havens.

  1. How to live well

The Royals are famously profligate with other people’s money, primarily taxpayers’ dosh, but also in-kind freebies from their elite peers in Hollywood and the like who offer up their private jets, cruise yachts, posh ski resort chalets, Kenyan hunting lodges and luxury holiday villas in the Caribbean for free royal use.

They are, however, infamously miserly with what they consider their private money. 

The Queen Mother’s frequent, extravagant dining occasions had a liveried footman posted behind each guest’s chair pouring champers from £300 bottles of the stuff, but when it came to tipping Royal Marine bandsmen on the royal yacht, Britannia, she protested bitterly to the Exchequer that the token gratuities had to come out of her own pocket (the tips were just 12½ pence per head!).

  1. Job Creation

It would be soup kitchens for many if it were not for the Royal job creation scheme. 

The Queen Mother, for example, had a personal staff of 60, Charles has 28, while the Queen finds room on the payroll for, among dozens of others, a Gold Stick-In-Waiting, Master of the Queen’s Music, Gentlemen Ushers, nine surgeons, five apothecaries, an astronomer, a Hereditary Carver, one Sculptor in Ordinary, Warden of the Queen’s Swans and a Royal Bargemaster. 

The royals' staffing roster is not a “mediaeval mountain of absurdity”, however, as the abolition of the "Keeper of the Lions in the Tower" demonstrates a modernising trend as “the royal family moves seamlessly into the 18th century”.

  1. Champions of meritocracy

There is a lot of ribbon-pinning and title-bestowing by the royals to recognise worthy persons who have enriched society, including the royals themselves. The Royal Family Order, for instance, is bestowed on all female members of the Royal Family for the achievement of, well, being a female member of the royal family, a prestigious laurel that only a select few deserve.

As connoisseurs of personal worth, it is only right, therefore, that such meritorious beings as the royals be the first to be looked after in the event of, say, nuclear war. The entire extended royal family, cousins and all, get first dibs on spots in the nuclear bunker when the Big One is about to fall, as specified in the official "Order of Precedence". For, if we have to start civilisation all over again, this time without any mistakes, the royals naturally come first to mind.

  1. Charity work

The royals are tireless charity workers — nothing as common as doing a shift in the local op-shop but, rather, tapping rich celebrities for donations. This is a task that might be more impressive if the royal charities didn’t divert large executive salaries and expense accounts from the charities’ funds to the court favourites who head them. Or if the royals didn’t charge appearance fees to guest at other charity fundraising events (the asking price by Princess Margaret, the Queen’s sister, is $30,000 a pop in the US, for example), which comes out of any event proceeds.

  1. Catch-me-if-you-can

The monarch, under the mediaeval "principle of perfection", can do no legal wrong and so cannot be prosecuted under common law. Thus, although Prince Philip’s traffic accident in 2019, which injured two other road users, was the Duke of Edinburgh’s fault, the Crown Prosecution Service offered a deal for the 98-year-old to surrender his driver’s licence in return for no charges being laid. Just two days after this accident, the failure of both the Queen and the Duke to wear seatbelts was similarly given a pass (both royals, by the way, are official patrons of road safety charities).

  1. Eco-Warriors

The preferred mode of travel for royalty is expensive, carbon dioxide-intensive helicopter and private jet rather than commercial flight or train. Prince Harry, for example, chartered a helicopter from London to Birmingham where he lectured an audience to "wake up and act" on climate change. For added green hypocrisy, Prince Philip, a serial master blaster of wildlife, was a founding member of the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF), while Charles became head of the WWF’s UK arm at the same time as he was adding wild boar in Liechtenstein to his big game trophies.

  1. Defending democracy

The royals are all for democracy — when it delivers the right result. When the Queen’s representative in Australia, Governor-General Sir John Kerr, sacked a twice-democratically-elected Labor Government in 1975, he was acting on instructions from the palace. 

  1. Agents of political disease

It would be insufficient to conclude that the British royals are just a monumentally expensive waste of space. Far worse is their politically toxic culture of elite entitlement, privileges and prerogatives that subtly propagandises that power and wealth differentials based on birth and wealth are inevitable. This conclusion is daily garnished by the establishment media’s royalty fetishism with, as Baker says, its “constant diet of sickeningly sycophantic coverage which reports their activities with breathless and uncritical awe”.

Although Baker is too much the political centrist to bring it up, there is an antidote to the political poison of royalty — pink-slip the lot of ‘em. Starting with the laying-off of the tiara’d and titled toffs, we could then progress onto the business barons and corporate kings. A small rise in the number of unemployed plaque-unveillers would be a small price to pay for a much greater rise in political democracy and economic equality.

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