Republic Opinion

The loathsome cult of King Charles III

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Graham Smith (left) led the protest against the coronation of King Charles before being arrested (Screenshot via YouTube)

The excessive wealth of the British royal family would be better spent to remedy poverty and homelessness than on archaic rituals, writes Dr William Briggs.

THE TIME-HONOURED right to protest in Britain has come to an abrupt end. The Home Office, on the eve of the coronation, announced that the new Public Order Act would ‘give police the powers to prevent disruption at major sporting and cultural events taking place this summer in England and Wales’. The coronation saw police arresting anti-royalist demonstrators. The ink was barely dry before the first arrests were made.

Graham Smith, the leader of the protests against the coronation declared that the police “should hang their heads in shame” and that they showed “no judgment, no common sense and no basic decency”.

He also made the point that:

“King Charles has said nothing about these arrests. Rather than defend our liberty and values, he is content celebrating his anointment as monarch while citizens are locked up.”

Why were they protesting? The obvious answer is that growing numbers of UK citizens are ready for a republic. The monarchy fuels the fire.

The coronation was seen by many as an unaffordable extravagance. It was unaffordable because the people had to foot the bill. In Australian dollar terms, this bill was $187 million (all future figures in Australian dollars). Currently, there are 14.4 million people living in poverty and 270,000 homeless. The new king has added insult to injury, calling on his subjects to lend a hand and do good by others. For instance, he urged his people to celebrate his ascension to the throne by helping out at their local food bank.

Just possibly, some of the gloss has rubbed off the royals in Britain because while millions go without, the new King’s personal wealth is a comfortable $1.8 billion and the family’s worth is now $75 billion.

While the dollar values grow, so does the acreage the royal family claims as its personal property. It now “owns” more than one per cent of all land in the UK. The Duchy of Cornwall estate, for example, has grown by 130,000 acres in the last 20 years.

Then there is the Crown Estate, which began with the Norman invasion. Its dollar value today is just under $20 billion and includes the Oval cricket ground, office blocks, residential developments, much of the coastline and the seabed out to 12 nautical miles offshore. There are windfarm leases on these seabed areas which further add to the profitability of the Windsor portfolios, but the Windsors are good environmentalists.

There is a neat little sleight of hand that goes with the management of the Crown Estate. It is managed by the Government and profits go to the Government. However, the Sovereign Grant which pays for royal travel, expenses, staff wages and upkeep of properties, returns to the royal family. This assistance for the struggling royals was to the tune of nearly $161 million last year. The police budget is always stretched, but then it has to pay for royal security. It does not come from that handy little Sovereign Grant.

In an attempt to sprinkle pixie dust into the eyes of the public, we are told, again and again, that the royal family are a financial asset. We hear of the tourist revenue that pours into Britain. A lot of that revenue is lost when tax time comes around. Last year, Charles inherited a princely sum from Elizabeth. In 1993, inheritance tax for the royals was done away with.

Prince William has been granted the Duchy of Cornwall — private ownership but no accompanying tax. The Duchy of Lancaster is a private estate owned by the King. Not only is it exempt from taxation, but the owner, if he or she happens to occupy the throne, receives a tax-free payment of $37 million per year.

The poor, the homeless and the destitute might take comfort from the fact that the late King George V’s stamp collection is now worth $186 million or that the personal art collection of the royal family is valued at $45 million. The poor will never see the art and nor will anyone else. It is locked away for royal eyes only.

Money, property, gold and jewels are all synonymous with royalty. It is best we learn to know our place and not ask too many questions. We are told that the British royalty is an institution stretching back into the mists of time. That may be so, but feudalism is over. Interestingly, the ostentatious flaunting of privilege and wealth is a relatively new thing and came after the feudal period was long past.

The pomp and pageantry that we see today are very much a 19th-Century innovation. Friedrich Engels in 1844 wrote, rather unflatteringly, of the ‘loathsome cult of the king’. He was not criticising an ancient set of corrupt practices but was speaking of a contemporary issue. It was about this time that the “traditions” of openings of parliament, grand royal weddings, funerals, processions and the rest became the norm.

These “new” rituals were employed to breathe life into a failing monarchy. If not bread, then certainly circuses were given to the people. Those circuses have become larger, more grandiose and grotesque.

The coronation, we were repeatedly told, was a “scaled-back” version of previous efforts. This may be so, but what has not been scaled back is the growing indifference and even hostility that the British public is feeling toward its beloved royal family.

Ten years ago, opinion polls saw 79% of the public in favour of the monarchy. That has slipped to 62%. The three-ring circus, the hoopla and razzmatazz, is simply not working for young people. Only 32% of 18-24-year-olds want to keep the show on the road. The majority of the British public did not want to have to pay for the coronation.

The 270,000 homeless and the 14 million living under the poverty line are doubtless happy to pay for the rich to party. But then again...

Dr William Briggs is a political economist. His special areas of interest lie in political theory and international political economy. He has been, variously, a teacher, journalist and political activist.

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