The Monarchy in 2023: Plain Sailing or Dead in the Water?
BY TOM LOWE
With the passing of Queen Elizabeth II last September and the coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla, debates surrounding the purpose of the monarchy in the contemporary UK have been thrust into the limelight once again.
These debates have fallen along the expected division of young people regarding the monarchy with more cynicism than the older generations, with YouGov polls showing that only 31% of 18-24yr olds believe the monarchy should remain, whilst that number stands much higher, at 70% for 50-64yr olds.
Britons in support of the monarchy are quick to point to the powerful cultural significance of the Royal Family and the status it grants to the UK on the international stage. If you were asked to name symbols of British culture, the chances are you would probably say fish and chips, mediocre international football success, rain, and yes, the Royal Family.
But what good is culture when taxpayers are footing the eye-watering £250m coronation bill during a time of rampant inflation and 14.4m Britons living in relative poverty? This is on top of the £86.3m (and rising) taxpayer-funded Sovereign Grant given to the Royal Family every year to ‘support His Majesty’s official duties’.
One could argue, especially with regards to the coronation, that the monarchy gives Britons something to be proud of, a chance to wave Union Jacks and have a good time. However, wouldn’t most people prefer that the funding of the monarchy is invested in public services and cost-of-living assistance instead? I would consider myself a patriot, I’m very proud of Britain and its achievements, but how can I be proud of my country when the King owns a crown worth £5bn as families up and down the country struggle with the incalculable choice to either heat their homes or put food on the table.
Every year the Royal Family indeed brings in a larger amount of money per year in tourism revenue (£550m) than it costs the taxpayer, but this is a fraction of total tourist spending in the UK, which stands at £22.5bn annually. The Sovereign Grant also does not cover the costs of security, ceremonies, and royal visitations, all of which are covered by the government, making the true cost of the monarchy to the taxpayer unknown but higher than many expect.
However, concern about the suitability of the monarchy for contemporary Britain is not just limited to financial issues. The Royal Family has been rocked to its core by scandal and conflict in recent years, with many questioning whether the late Queen, and current King, have got the House of Windsor in order.
The King’s own brother, Prince Andrew, has been at the centre of a political and legal hurricane for over three years. This started after allegations of sexual assault arose following the death of the prince’s close friend, Jeffrey Epstein, in prison. After attempting to affirm his innocence to the British public in a disastrous Newsnight interview where he claimed he was unable to sweat, Andrew was relieved of public duties and his HRH titles. A lengthy and expensive court case funded by the taxpayer followed, seeing Andrew settling out of court in February 2022 for an estimated £12m.
The British press, which is, for the most part, pro-Royal, has been quick to largely ignore Andrew’s debauchery and take aim at the spectre that haunts Piers Morgan’s dreams – the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and Meghan. After stepping away from public duties in 2020, the couple have found themselves in turmoil, being consistently hounded by the press if they put a foot wrong, whilst also pursuing various projects that come across to Royalists as hypocritical, such as Harry’s memoirs Spare and a landmark documentary on Netflix.
Expensive, divided, and criminal are three words normally used to describe the government of the day. However, they are now being directed towards the monarchy. Is this family truly fit to represent the UK in 2023? Should such a small group of people have access to resources and influence that most of us can only dream of, simply because they won the family lottery?
The Royal Family indeed forms a significant part of British identity, but this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t acknowledge their problems, especially at a time when they seem to be riddled with them. Perhaps now is finally the time for the monarchy to hang up their Crown and live their lives as private citizens.
Image: Flickr/ Windsor Castle