• Wednesday, June 19, 2024
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Vivat rex in aeternum (let the king live forever)!

Vivat rex in aeternum (let the king live forever)!

Now that Queen Elisabeth II has been laid to rest, it seems an appropriate time to share a view on the value of a monarchy. Morocco and two states in southern Africa continue to operate such a system. We should also mention the short-lived experiment in the Central African Republic from 1977 to 1979, if only to share our relief with the French taxpayer. Looking back earlier into the post-colonial period, there were monarchs in Egypt, Libya, Rwanda, and elsewhere

The UK head of state (now King Charles III) receives a sovereign grant from the UK government. This grant, formerly known as the civil list, amounted to £102 million in the 2021/22 financial year.

It is calculated as a set percentage of the profits of the sizeable Crown Estate, which were surrendered by King George III in 1760 in return for an annual income from the government. If those profits fall below expectation, then the Treasury tops up the grant.

The head of state also receives funds from the duchy of Lancaster (and the heir to the throne from the duchy of Cornwall). He pays tax on the profits of the duchy on a voluntary basis. The revenue and spending of the duchies are not public information.

One estimate is that each duchy generates about £20 million per year. Finally, the head of state derives some income from those residences that are privately owned. The best-known residences such as Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, like the Crown Jewels, are however held in trust by the monarch on behalf of the nation.

Read also: …As the world bids Queen Elizabeth II goodnight

Any analysis of the cost of the monarchy must allow for the tourism revenue, both direct and indirect. This may well decline with the change in monarch but is considerable. In 2021/22, visitors to Windsor and surrounding properties, for example, amounted to 426,000, which would have raised about £11 million on the conservative assumption that visitors spent £25 per head.

Estimates of spending by tourists who choose the UK as their holiday destination because of the monarchy among other reasons are conjecture. Again, the spending may fall on the passing of the late Queen, who was probably the most famous person in the world.

The cost of the monarchy should be adjusted to include the bill for security borne by the police and local councils. This is a point often made by opponents of the monarchy, who should recognise that presidential systems do not come cheap. Those in positions of authority tend to like spending the taxes of those they rule.

Whether the annual cost is the sovereign grant or three times higher to cover security expenses, it is a fraction of total government spending. Departmental spending excluding expenditure on services in 2021/22 totalled £73 billion on education and £193 billion on health and social care. Even the higher figure for the annual cost of the monarchy is less than the typical overrun on a government defense contract.

Ultimately, the monarchy survives if the public wishes it. The debate over the costs, while interesting, is peripheral. During the period of national mourning, we saw an unsourced poll that 18 percent of voters favour a republican system.

The principle of heredity may be upsetting. It does not matter that the head of state has a marginal role in the constitutional monarchy if you object to the inheritance of an unelected role on the basis of birth. From the same perspective, the procedures for mourning and the funeral may appear quaint and of a different era. (To which one compelling answer is that we all have a say in our own funeral arrangements, and that a 96-year-old participant in the Second World War should be no exception.)

The evidence from the lying-in state and the day of the Queen’s funeral suggest that the public is happy with the status quo. Any viewer on TV could not fail to notice the diversity of the crowds and the wide range of ages represented. There is a difference, of course, between celebrating the life of a monarch who reigned for 70 years and barely put a foot wrong, and celebrating the institution.

It is widely said that the new King is to slim down the monarchy, a process that he has encouraged in the past decade. This tackles the legitimate objection that the public is funding “hangers on” who bring nothing to the table in the terms of attending official engagements and who might diminish the reputation of the institution.

In time, the UK monarchy could move towards the Scandinavian “bicycle” model, i.e, keeping a far lower profile, having a life style closer to the population in general, and dispensing with most of the pomp and ceremony. At this point, we do not see such a move.