7 June 2012

Après elle, le déluge?

Apart from a tongue-in-cheek post last year about the Queen retiring at 90, I’m not much interested in the Royal family. So this post is another exception to the norm and also an excuse to upload an image the Bristolian street artist Banksy has donated to the public domain.

On 6 June Britain went back to work after four days of Queen’s Diamond Jubilee festivities. Even so, The Times that morning, as well as pull-outs and wrap-overs, gave pages 1 to 13 over to Jubilee reporting. Reality finally intruded on page 15 under the headline, Germany must take action to save world economies, warn finance ministers.  Any irony in its being the anniversary of D-day (6 June 1944) was avoided since the media coverage of the latter was minimal.

Whether the additional public holiday on Tuesday 5th (Monday’s Bank Holiday, as they are called in the UK, was part of the normal quota) was really needed to celebrate appropriately, or even sensible given the country’s economic situation, doesn’t seem to have been the subject of much debate. Last year an extra Bank Holiday was thought necessary to mark the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Perhaps we can manage for the next few years with the usual public holidays and avoid worrying about the impact of any extra ones on economic growth.

The media coverage of the Jubilee and its royal participants was mostly fawning and shallow, so Max Hastings’ cooler view in the Financial Times on 2 June was an exception. Headed Long may she reign – with dignity and endearing dullness, (and subheaded Many want her to go on and on; some fear for what is next, in the paper but not on the website) it made the point that:
Most of Queen Elizabeth’s subjects want her to reign for ever, partly because they cherish the continuity she represents in a turbulent age, and partly because of unease about what might follow if her son succeeds her. The Prince of Wales conspicuously lacks his mother’s discipline and discretion; he pursues eccentric causes with messianic zeal. Courtiers assert soothingly that if he assumes the crown he will relapse into Trappist silence, accepting its constraints. But there seem grounds for doubt whether, as a sexagenarian, he will suddenly acquire the prudence that characterises his mother. If he attempted to change the character of the monarchy, to make himself more assertive, trouble could quickly follow. It seems mistaken to confuse widespread public respect for the Queen with inalienable support for dynastic rule. History shows how suddenly and dramatically hostility to the royal family can erupt, if its members behave unwisely. …  
[The Queen] has understood the most important thing about a modern constitutional monarch: that he or she is judged for what they are, rather than for what they do. This is something that the Prince of Wales, forever eager to tackle huge issues beyond his intellectual capacity, has never grasped. While it is true that he sometimes puts himself on the virtuous side of public controversies, the proper function of the royal family in a constitutional monarchy is to stay out of controversy altogether. … the Queen’s successor will do well to consider her conduct a template for his own, rather than indulge perilous notions about creating a “new-style” monarchy.
Not that Hastings is the only commentator in the last few years to express some apprehension about Prince Charles’ future kingship. But there may be a more fundamental problem lurking in the background. A couple of days after Hastings’ article, the FT reported Luxury market set to hit $1.5tn and explained:
The market for luxury, such as yachts, frocks and safaris, is set to hit $1.5tn this year, roughly matching the entire economic output of Spain or Australia, as the income inequality gap widens across the globe. … money is increasingly going on luxury experiences, from spas to safaris, rather than tangible products. Spending on experiences grew 50 per cent faster than on goods last year, according to Boston Consulting Group. The management consultancy expects the overall luxury market to expand 7 per cent this year, a deceleration on the past two years’ 12 per cent but still comfortably ahead of projected growth in global economic output.  
“The gap in income inequality is growing, which is unfortunate, but as a result there are more and more millionaires every year,” said Jean-Marc Bellaiche, a senior partner at BCG and co-author of the latest report. Millionaires, he adds, account for an estimated 45 per cent of the market. Some analysts have questioned how long the inexorable rise of luxury can continue as swaths of Europe are engulfed in economic and financial turmoil and the US remains fragile. …
A major challenge for Western politicians is likely to be finding a suitable response to increasing tensions between the few percent who are on the right side of the ‘income inequality gap’ and the rest of us on the ‘unfortunate’ side. Although the Queen appears in the Sunday Times Rich List (257th equal at an estimated £300m), her wealth has never seemed to be an issue which provokes popular ill-feeling. No doubt this is partly because, as Hastings describes,
Always financially prudent, she has swallowed economy measures at her palaces, together with the scrapping of the royal yacht without replacement, and agreed to pay income tax on her private fortune.
Also, the Queen appears to share an austere streak with many other people who experienced life in Britain during World War 2 and the difficult years which followed it and shows little inclination towards extravagances out of keeping with her role as head of state. However, some of the younger royals, and there are quite a few, seem to have more of a taste for the clothes, cars, houses, holidays and other things that make up the luxurious ‘lifestyles of the rich and famous’. That this could alienate many of the public if times get much harder for the majority is obvious.

Robert Hazell, Professor of British Politics and Government and Director of the Constitution Unit at University College, London (no less), surfaced on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on 7 June to explain ‘the significance of the balcony photograph conceived by Buckingham Palace as the last image of the Jubilee celebrations’. He seemed to think that it signalled a focussing on the core members of the royal family, those in the line of succession. Although he didn’t say so, reducing the public profile of the rest could be a sensible precaution. A similar line came from The Times (£) the same day in an unctuous piece about Prince Charles by Valentine Low, which concluded:
If Charles’s speech was one of the significant moments of the Jubilee weekend, so too was the balcony appearance at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday afternoon. The slimmed down team that went out to wave to the crowds, just six of them including the Queen, was an obvious attempt to concentrate on the core members of the Royal Family. As such, it chimes in exactly with Charles’s view that the Royal Family should be pared down to a much smaller team than it is at present. Buckingham Palace would, no doubt, like people to believe that all such decisions were taken by the Queen. The Prince of Wales, however, is not to be ignored. And increasingly he won’t be.
So perhaps Hastings’ misgivings about Charles are ill-judged, and certain problems a future Prime Minister could well do without will never arise.


  1. If you are interested in scratching below the surface of the long-standing institutional lies that surround the Duchy of Cornwall then you could start here: John Kirkhope is a notary public solicitor who has spent an extraordinary amount of time studying Cornish law.

    The Duchy of Cornwall - A Very Peculiar Private Estate: http://www.scribd.com/doc/44178693/The-Duchy-of-Cornwall-A-Very-Peculiar-Private-Estate

    A Mysterious, Arcane and Unique Corner of our Constitution: http://www.scribd.com/doc/49195535/A-Mysterious-Arcane-and-Unique-Corner-of-our-Constitution

    The Cornish Republican

    1. Thank you for your comment, although I'm not sure it's entirely relevant. Not being a lawyer, I can't comment on Mr Kirkhope's views, and I don't take responsibility for the content of other websites.