The Power behind the Throne

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Investigating into today’s power structure in the UK and the role played by the British monarchy, this eye-opening documentary reveals the grossly disproportionate and undemocratic wealth and power of Britain’s Royal Family. The programme educates the viewers about the sheer wealth of Britain’s unelected monarchy and trails through the various assets and sources of income to which a random family, born into a historic mesh of multiracial kings and queens, unfairly believe they are entitled. The UK with its dark and scattered history of political struggles has become the playground of monarchic power and influence. The documentary exposes all the main instruments of wealth of the British monarchy and provides clear commentary as to why Britain may be the most contradictory democracy in the world.

TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00

Narration: Monarchy is by definition incompatible with democracy. You cannot have a government chosen by an election at the same time individuals occupying positions of power simply because they were born the sons or daughters, of families who already have political power. It was on this principle that the English people fought a civil war, made a revolution and cut off their king’s head in the 17th century.

When after 10 years after being one of the first republics in the world, a monarch was restored to the British throne, it came to be understood that no King or Queen would seek to rule without Parliament. Indeed, as Britain became a democracy, supporters of the Parliamentary system insisted that the British Monarchy has no real political power. The Victorian political theorist, Walter Bagehot for instance said that the monarchy was merely a decorative part of the constitution and that real power was exercised by the cabinet. Even now, in the 21st century, is this really true? The royal family is a part from anything else, and beyond dispute, very wealthy. And money is one sort of power.

When we pay for the royal family to remain wealthy, their cost to the tax payer has been estimated to be anywhere between £40-£200 million More than this, recent reports have revealed how much the Royal family routinely seeks to directly and personally change the decisions of government.

Here we look at the heredity power of the royal family still has an impact on the course of British political life.

The oldest form of wealth in Britain is land wealth. Long before there were corporations and banks, indeed long before there was a stable currency, wealth and power were measured by how much land you and your family owned. In medieval Britain, those who earned little or no land, were forced to work for those who owned a lot of land. The national trust and the forestry commission are now some of the biggest land owners. But astoundingly in 21st century Britain, some of the largest land owners have the same as they’ve been for hundreds of years. The royal family, the aristocracy, the church of England and Oxford University.

SOUNDBITE [English] Joe Cook, Writer: “The largest land owners in Britain is the crown estate, they own a combined property portfolio of around 8.1 billion pounds. That includes agricultural land as well as urban properties and this isn’t the Monarch’s personal private land, but she receives an annual percentage revenue from this every year.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Dan Poulton, Editorial Board Counterfire Co.: “Well the thing about the Monarchy is that there are two kinds of ownership. There’s the technical ownership, the ownership of 6.6 billion acres of land i.e. the land that ordinary people around the world in their millions are working on, living on, farming on and all the rest of it. Then you can get down to beyond the sort of abstract and the prestige, and look at the actual wealth, the concrete land that’s owned in this country alone. There’s 36K landowners who own half the wealth in the country, now 36K may sound like a lot, but its 0.6%, it’s less than one percent of the UK population. Of the top 10 of these 36K people, so the top ten of those, Prince Charles is the third biggest landowner in this country.”

Narration: The crown and the rest of the aristocratic states own a total of 1.4 million acres of land. Over twice the land area owned by the National trust are nearly 3 times the total land owned by the pension funds in the UK. So the land owned by the crown of aristocracy owns the land covering an area over 3 times the size of greater London or a third as much again as the total area of Cornwall. The crown controls more than half of the UK shoreline. Crown land is treated as a state asset, not to be sold by the Monarch, and it’s revenues come to the state and the Queen is paid a percentage of these profits. But the Queen can and does also own private property as a private individual in addition to crown land.

TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00

SOUNDBITE [English] Neil Faulkner, Historian and Writer: “There is a lot of huge estates which are still owned by the British aristocracy, including of course the royal family. There are also these peculiar feudal fiefdoms. There are the duchy of Lancaster and duchy of Cornwall, both of which are large royal estates. The finances of the royal family are very complex, there’s a whole series of revenue streams and of course much of it is shrouded in mystery. There are two sources of their wealth. One is that they receive grants from the state to fund their official functions and big expense accounts as well. Then they have their own private property holdings, some of which is property that belongs to the crown, some of which is the private property of members of the Windsor family. Balmoral castle estate and Sandringham castle estate for example are both the private property of the Queen as an individual, the private property belonging to Elizabeth Windsor rather than belonging to the crown. But it’s all terribly complicated and people are left guessing at the actual wealth of the Queen. One estimate is that it’s about 350 million pounds her private wealth, but it is an estimate because so much of this is shrouded in secrecy.”

Narration: Crown land is some of the most valuable in the country. Indeed the value of the Crown’s urban property, 4 billion pounds, is 4 times greater than the value of it’s rural land holdings. The crown owns for instance the entirety of Regent street, around half of St James street in London’s west end and retail property across the UK. Including in Oxford, Exeter, Nottingham, Newcastle and Harlow. The Crown owns part of the bluewater retail park in Kent. It also owns retail parks in leeds, Milton Keynes, Mersyside, Slough, Swansea, Portsmouth, Harlow, Maidstone, Hempstead, Nottingham, Edinburgh, Warwick, Cheltenham and Jersey. The Windsor estate controls Ascot racecourse, golf clubs, hotels, farms and woodland. In Scotland the crown owns fishing rights, mussel and fishing revenues and mining rights throughout its holdings.

SOUNDBITE [English] Neil Faulkner, Historian and Writer: “One of the problems with assessing the power of the royal family is that there is no constitution, there is no closely defined set of powers which members of the royal family retain. It’s much more an influence behind the scenes which is difficult to measure.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Joe Cook, Writer: “The feudal Cornwall laws allow the prince of Wales to claim the money and assets of anyone in Cornwall who dies without making a will. If they owe no money, the Prince of Wales can claim that for himself. He doesn’t use it in his backpocket, but he does use it to fund his personal projects. His own personal charities and to fund bursaries in private schools. We know so far that he’s claimed 3.3 million pounds of other people’s money. People have complained about this. The people of cornwall have asked him to keep the money within the county, and at the very least use it for the public spending, the public purse. He’s refused to do so and ignores their requests.”

Narration: In all, the 800 million pound duchy of Cornwall estate provides Charles with 19 million pounds a year in private profit. The royal family’s whole property portfolio is estimated at over 7 billion pounds. Only a tax free, 230 million pounds in profit every single year. That’s before 10 billion pounds worth of art collection is taken into account. With wealth, comes power. Specifically the power not to obey the laws of the land in the way that every other citizen of the country is required to do. The Prince of Wale’s duchy of Cornwall is not for instance subject to planning permission or planning consent in the way that any other builder would be. This means that Charles can avoid fines of up to £50K that will be levied against anyone else breaking these planning laws. Every other landlord has to grant squatters rights if they occupy land for 10 years but for the prince, that time limit is 60 years. Normally, landlords must allow their lease owners to buy the freehold on a property, but not the prince. Who can hold lease holders in that position forever. The Duchy only pays tax voluntarily and has advice from government lawyers.

TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00

Narration: It also benefits from exemptions that no other private sector body enjoys. For instance, Charles pays no corporation tax on hid business. With wealth comes power, specifically the power not to obey the laws of the land in the way that every other citizen of the country is required to do. The Prince of Wales Duchy of Cornwall is not, for instance, subject to planning permission or planning consent in the way that any other builder would be. This means that Charles can avoid fines of up to £50,000 that would be levied against anyone else breaking these planning laws. Every other landlord has to grant squatters rights if they occupy land for 10 years. But for the Prince that time limit is 60 years. Normal landlords must allow their leaseholders to buy the freehold on property. But not the Prince who can hold leaseholders in that conditions forever.

The Duchy only pays tax voluntarily and has free advice from government lawyers. It also benefits from exemptions that no other private sector body enjoys. For instance, Charles pays no corporation tax or capital gains tax on his business enterprises.

SOUNDBITE [English] Joe Cook, Writer: “The feudal Cornwall laws are pretty much an archaic and medieval-like remnant from Kings and Queens past. It allows the Duchy of Cornwall, the Prince’s personal estate, to work as a separate legal jurisdiction. That means that the Prince of Wales cannot be summoned in any of her majesty’s courts. It means that he cannot be legally summoned to pay tax and it means he is able to veto any law past by government which may affect his private interests and we know he has done this 12 times already.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Tamasin Cave, Director at Spinwatch: “Prince Charles has private commercial interest, if you take away this magic that is the royalty thing, you take away the fact that he drives around in a big sparkly pram a lot of the time, if you take away that, he’s a normal businessman with commercial interests and I think it’s right to in a democracy that we should be able to see which commercial interests are trying to sway government policy.”

Narration: Charles has long sought to influence many aspects of government policy. His letters top ministers have been kept secret by the Attorney General.

SOUNDBITE [English] Dan Poulton, Editorial Board Counterfire Co.: “There are general principles of the Monarchy and the specific ones. The General ones of the Monarchy are pretty mind-boggling really. Pretty much legal immunity across the board. I mean there’s been various wrangling to make it possible to bring certain kinds of levers against the royal family but it’s pretty much de-facto impossible. Then of course there’s the specific privileges they have, which we have seen with the black spider memos, when you look at what the scale of these letters, it is quite worrying.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Rob Evans, Reporter of the Guardian: “For a long time there were suspicions that there has been sufficient suspicions that Prince Charles writes a lot of letters to Minister and other people actually. Advocating his visit you know, his opinions and putting forward ideas on how the government should do things, and how things should be changed. These have gained the nickname, “the black spider memos”, because he goes and writes them late at night in his handwriting, which is quite scrawly.

Ten years ago in 2005, the editor of the Guardian approached me and asked if we could use the Freedom of Information Act (which had just come into force then) to try and find out what letters Prince Charles had written to government minister and what they’ve said and what their response had been. So we pursued it from then.”

Narration: The government attempted to keep the letters secret in the face of a legal trial by the Guardian newspaper. But recently the Court ruled that the government had been wrong to prevent the publication of the Prince’s attempts to influence government. When the Attorney General Dominic Grieve, in the last government, sought to veto the publication of the Prince’s letters he did so, he claimed because they, ‘would be seriously damaging to his role as future monarch if he forfeits his position of political neutrality as heir to the throne, he cannot easily recover it when he is king’

SOUNDBITE [English] Neil Faulkner, Historian and Writer: “Prince Charles writing letters to government ministers is quite clearly able to get a hearing, quite clearly is able to influence policy. Some of the responses from government ministers which have come out have been quite sickeningly obsequious. A clear fawning by Labour ministers on leading members of the aristocracy as if Prince Charles has some right over other citizens to interfere in the political process.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Joe Cook, Writer: “These letters were extremely rambling. They were extremely long and drawn out, he talks about so many things all his bug bears and his pet-projects. Everything from Irish jails to beef farming to herbal remedies to military supplies. There’s pretty much nothing left that he hasn’t got to talk about. Government ministers were very keen and quick to respond to Prince Charles. Tony Blair became a bit of a pen-pal of Prince Charles. I think the home-secretary of the time, Charles Clarke, he used to sign off these letters “from your humble and obedient servant.” So it just shows that the level of sycophancy and fawning the letters were treated with.”

Narration: Charles has been writing these letters to ministers since Harold Wilson was prime minster in 1969. Charles wrote to ministers in Tony Blair’s government no less than 27 times in just 8 months between September 2004 and April 2005.

TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00

SOUNDBITE [English] Rob Evans, Reporter of the Guardian: “Eventually we got the letters after Tony. Ironically the letters that actually were released were typed, so we didn’t get to see the scrawly hand-writing. It took so long because the government resisted. They fought first of all in the freedom of information tribunal which ruled against them, when they lost there, then they decided to veto which blocked the publication, which overruled the court, and blocked the publication of the letters. So we had to then challenge that. Eventually that particular battle went all the way up to the supreme court this year, where the government again lost, so after that, there was no other legal avenue that they could pursue to try and stop the letters being published.”

Narration: The previous Tory-Lib Dem coalition spent hundreds of thousands of pounds of tax payers money blocking the Guardian newspapers Freedom of Information request to see and publish the letters before the courts forced the government to back down.

SOUNDBITE [English] Rob Evans, Reporter of the Guardian: “What happened, is that because the government were prepared to spend a lot of effort to keep the letters secret, they hired barristers to fight the legal battle at every turn but they lost, but ultimately the legal bill for that is more than 400,00 pounds that the government has spent of tax-payer’s money to stop the letters being released.”

Narration: The reason is simple: the letters, described by the Attorney General himself as ‘particularly frank’, has undermined the myth that the monarchy has no direct influence on government policy. They would show that one man, simply because of the family that he was born into, has an unparalleled access to the highest levels of government, access that is closed to any other citizen.

SOUNDBITE [English] Dan Poulton, Editorial Board Counterfire Co.: “It’s taken 10 years for these letters to come to light, it was 2005 that the Guardian started to put freedom of information requests and I think it’s a very telling period, because it was coming to the end of Tony Blair’s premiership and in the wake of the invasion of Iraq. Tensions in the British society were phenomenally high. It also came at the end of the period when nefarious arms dealings with Saudi Arabia that had gone back into the 80s and till 2006 – tens of billions of pounds worth of arms were provided to Saudi Arabia, that the Monarchy and Prince Charles in particular had helped sell. It was a very tense period and it brought to question all the things that happen in British society. From the legal system to the Prime Minister’s office, from the Monarchy and so on. Indeed, you can find references in these memos references to the state of military spending, which is close to the heart of the royal family making so much arms trade with it and also they had a direct interest in the war.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Rob Evans, Reporter of the Guardian: “Eventually the letters were published and they were letters, they were quite a short period of time, just 8 months. The suspicion was that he had been writing for years and years. The public got a snapshot, a small snapshot of what he’d been up to. What it had showed was that he had indeed been lobbying at the highest level putting forward his point of view on particular subjects. He was lobbying ministers and even the Prime Minister.”

Narration: The Guardian’s actions in pursuing this story are practically unique in the history of British media. Usually the monarchy can rely on the British press to keep silent on any embarrassing story about the monarchy.

TIME CODE: 20:00_25:00

SOUNDBITE [English] Joe Cook, Writer: “The royal family have a huge amount of influence over the press. They’re extremely well connected and the press acts as a universal cheerleader for the Royal Family. I think it was during the Jubilee, that the Queen was taking a tour of the BBC studios and live on air so-called journalist Julian Worricker bowed his head to the Queen during a live news report. This is unthinkable for a journalist to do, it just shows the level of fawning we have within the establishment and in the media. So there’s no serious discussion allowed about their constitutional place in society.”

Narration: In the 1930s newspapers in Britain remained silent on the relationship between the future King Edward VIII and the American divorcee Wallis Simpson the relationship that eventually led to Edward abdicating the throne. And they remained silent even while the news was being reported in the US.

SOUNDBITE [English] Neil Faulkner, Historian and Writer: “I think the royal family’s influence in the press is considerable and has probably gotten bigger because the British media has become more obsequious over the last 20-30 years, much more reluctant to criticize to expose what is going on inside the British establishment. Partly where it’s state media because they are worried about politicians restricting their funding, and in the case of the private media because of the degree to which newspapers and other media are controlled by top press lords who of course are leaders themselves leading members in the establishment and have very right-wing politics.”

Narration: The tradition continues. The contract with the BBC to film the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton stipulated that the footage could not be used for humorous or satirical purposes. Australian comedy program The Chaser had to be pulled from the schedules because it breached that ban.

During the making of a BBC 1 program about the Commonwealth and the Queen’s Silver Jubilee a BBC producer said that it would not be suitable to interview Australian prime minister Julia Gillard because ‘she is pro-republican’ and would not fit the film’s ‘positive angle’.

SOUNDBITE [English] Joe Cook, Writer: “In 2011, BBC correspondent Frank Gardiner was live on air and he dropped something about the queen. He said the Queen was personally distressed about the so-called hate preacher Abu Hamza, and she said was said to be aghast that he couldn’t be arrested for his anti-British values. They reported on this and they very soon afterwards, Frank Gardiner, the BBC and the director general issued a groveling apology to the Queen.”

Narration: Gardiner told the BBC’s flagship Today programme: ‘She spoke to the home secretary at the time and said, surely this man must have broken some laws. Why is he still at large? He was conducting these radical activities and he called Britain a toilet. He was incredibly anti-British and yet he was sucking up money from this country for a long time. He was a huge embarrassment to Muslims, who condemned him.’

Gardiner continued that the Queen, ‘like anybody… was upset that her country and its subjects were being denigrated by this man’. But there’s the rub. The Queen is not ‘like anybody’… because it not anyone can call up the Home Secretary and lobby them over matters they find disturbing. Both the Palace, which refused to comment on the story, and the BBC instantly realized that they had revealed the still existing political power of the monarchy, a power it is not supposed to have. As a matter of fact the monarch dos not need to make a special effort to get the government to hear her views.

SOUNDBITE [English] Joe Cook, Writer: “The Queen is legally entitled to meet the Prime Minister once a week, if she can’t meet him in person, she’s allowed a telephone conversation, during these meetings she’s allowed to discuss anything she wishes, any matter at all. However, whatever she does discuss is kept completely confidential from the rest of the public. We don’t have a right to know what she discusses on her behalf.”

Narration: Tony Blair went further than most in his memoirs when he revealed that at his first meeting with the Queen she acted with ‘hauteur’ telling him ‘You are my tenth prime minister. The first was Winston. That was before you were born’. It’s a telling few sentences. Clearly, for the Queen, elected prime ministers come and go, but the monarchy is always there.

Monarchy is, by definition, incompatible with democracy. You cannot have government chosen by election and at the same time have individuals occupying positions of power simply because they were born the sons or daughters of families who already have political power.

It was on this principle that the English people fought a civil war, made a revolution and cut off their kings head in the 17th century.

When, after 20 years of being one of the first Republics in the world, a monarch was restored to the British throne it came to be understood that no King or Queen would ever seek to rule without parliament.

Indeed as Britain became a democracy supporters of the British parliamentary system insisted that the British monarchy has no real political power.

The Victorian political theorist Walter Bagehot, for instance, wrote that the monarchy was merely a ‘decorative’ part of the constitution, and that real power was exercised by the cabinet. But even now, in the 21st century, is this really true?

The royal family is, apart from anything else and beyond dispute, very wealthy. And money is one sort of power. And we pay for the Royal family to remain wealthy their cost to the tax payer has been estimated at anywhere between £40 million to £200 million.

More than this, recent reports have revealed how much the royal family routinely seeks to directly and personally change decisions of government.

Here we look at how the hereditary power of the royal family still has an impact on the course of British political life.

BAE systems, Britain’s leading arms manufacturer recently sold 72 Typhoon fighter jets to the Saudi Arabian dictatorship. The original offer from the Saudi’s was £4.4 billion, but when the deal was done Ian King, BAE’s chief executive, said the public was ‘never going to know’ how much the company was eventually paid.

But one thing we do know is that on the very eve of the day the deal was signed Prince Charles was in the Saudi capital Riyadh, dressed in traditional robes and joining the Saudi princes in a sword dance.

TIME CODE: 25:00_30:00

SOUNDBITE [English] Andrew Smith, Spokesperson of Campaign against Arms Tarde: “Well the deal with Saudi Arabia was for 2 fighter jets which are made by BAE systems and the deal was worth 4.4 billion to BAE systems and funnily enough was signed the day before otherwise disappointing results for 2013 were released and while Prince Charles was in Saudi Arabia wining and dining with the heads of the regime who were pursuing to get the final cost. I make the point that David Cameron had visited Saudi Arabia himself in November last year, trying to cement this deal and David Cameron had failed to do it, so it looks an awful lot like Prince Charles went and did BAE’s dirty work for them”.

SOUNDBITE [English] Dan Poulton, Editorial Board Counterfire Co.: “Prince Charles has been by his own admission a kind of mascot for the British arms trade. So much so that even he has complained about being used to market weapons in his perhaps more sober moments. This is his job. You can see that this is a job that’s been done, that the royal family always carry out, regardless whether they have a momentary crisis of conscious, it remains the case that up until recent years, Prince Charles and the royal family have been responsible for closing very big arms deals with Saudi Arabia. This is another monarchy who probably beats the royal family in terms of its reactionary nature, this is a regime that decapitates people for adultery and witch-craft and drug abuse. It has committed crimes against humanity which the British monarchy have rubberstamped these kinds of sales.”

Narration: The palace denied the Princes, Saudi and British, discussed the arms deal.

SOUNDBITE [English] Andrew Smith, Spokesperson of Campaign against Arms Tarde: “One of the key questions is why do the Saudi Arabian government, or the Bahraini regime, want to have Prince Charles or Andrew come to their country and shake hands and be taken around their tourist sites. The reason is that it gives them legitimacy. It’s a British endorsement. It says not only that Britain is prepared to do business with you, we are prepared to send over one of the heads of state to go over and do your bidding. Prince Charles is being used by BAE systems and is being used as an arms dealer.”

Narration: A previous investigation into UK-Saudi arms deal, Margaret Thatcher’s sale of Tornado aircrafts in the Al Yamamah deal, was blocked by Tony Blair on “national security grounds”.

SOUNDBITE [English] Andrew Smith, Spokesperson of Campaign against Arms Tarde: “Prince Andrew has done more than his share of wining and dining with some of the most repressive regimes and dictators in the world. Only this year, Prince Andrew was in Bahrain for “Great British week” where he went over with some great British companies, companies like BAE systems and arms companies, rolls Royce, who were there specifically to sell weapons and to make deals with some of the most repressive governments in the world.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Neil Faulkner, Historian and Writer: “There is a direct relationship between what the royal family are doing in relation to arms sales and in relation to imperial wars let it be said, because royal families serve in the armed forces, and by serving in the armed forces, Harry in Afghanistan for example, what they do is put a gloss over those kind of imperial interventions. So, the royal family is involved in the imperialist wars in that sense. It’s giving its blessing to those imperialist wars and selling arms to Saudi Arabia is selling arms to an extremely reactionary Monarchy with an appalling human rights record, an appalling record on civil liberties which is also using its military power projecting it’s military power elsewhere to suppress revolutionary movements in Bahrain 2-3 years ago and currently in Yemen.”

Narration: Former South African MP Andrew Feinstein resigned in protest over BAE bribery allegations. He has his own experience of the royal family’s arms interests.

SOUNDBITE [English] Andrew Feinstein, Former MP at African National Congress and Author: “We tried to investigate a huge and very corrupt arms deal. BAE won the arms deal in very controversial circumstances. The plane that the air force wanted was two and a half times less expensive than the BAE were offering and was far more suited to South Africa’s needs. But, the metropolitan police have estimated that a hundred and fifteen million pounds in bribes were paid in that one deal alone. Unfortunately, the British royal family were intimately involved together with Tony Blair, the then Prime Minister, in persuading the new South African government to buy these trainers and jet fighters to the extent that the Royal Britannia was sailed to cape town harbor with some members of the royal family aboard, and they invited to dinner, those ministers who were going to make the crucial decision about BAE systems.”

Narration: Strangely perhaps a Buckingham Palace spokesman who spoke to the Guardian had much the same view, with an added tinge of colonial snobery: ‘Middle East potentates like meeting princes. He comes in as the son of the Queen and that opens doors that otherwise would remain closed. He can raise problems with a crown prince and four or five weeks later we discover that the difficulties have been overcome and the contract can be signed. He brings immeasurable value in smoothing the path for British companies. We don’t send him to developed countries like France and Sweden, where a member of the royal family would not make a difference, but in developing countries, or the far east, a prince can get in because of who he is.’

SOUNDBITE [English] Neil Faulkner, Historian and Writer: “One of the characteristics of British capitalism and the economy in recent times, since the second world war, is that the arms industry has played an important role in the British trade, the British are very keen to sell top of the range weapons technology, very often, the market is dictators, particularly dictators in the Middle East and North Africa. If you want to establish diplomatic relations and trading relations with feudal or semi-feudal regimes it helps if you have your own royals who can operate at that social level, who can give you an entre. Prince Charles has played a major role, Prince Andrew has played a major role. Other royals I’m sure have played a role in developing these diplomatic relations and helping arms manufacturers to sell weapons to Middle East dictators.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Andrew Feinstein, Former MP at African National Congress and Author: “Unlike the case of Prince Andrew, when there has been other cases of royal families in other parts of the world who have got involved for instance, in the arms trade and behaved inappropriately, they’ve suffered consequences. For instance Prince Benheart of the Netherlands at one point was promoting arms sales into the Netherlands and was working with two American companies to do so. Neither of the companies realized they were working for the other and his wife, the Queen of the Netherlands didn’t know he was working for either of then, when it was discovered he was engaged in this activity, he was stripped of all sorts of rights or privileges and he was never allowed to wear the uniform of the Dutch military ever again. Now, having a royal family is not ideal, but if one has one for whatever historical reason, at least make them accountable for their actions. Whereas in this country, they can effectively do what they like.”

TIME CODE: 35:00_40:00

Narration: But Andrew’s particular form of charm worked as well on dictators whether or not of the royal variety: He is reported to have had a close friendship with Saif Gaddafi, son of Colonial Gaddafi, and hosted a lunch at Buckingham Palace for the son-in-law of Tunisian dictator, Ben Ali, despite being warned of his corrupt activities by the British Embassy in Tunis. As for the Saudi government, the biggest market for UK arms companies, they are now using those arms in an unprovoked attack on neighboring Yemen.

In the world of international diplomacy it is usual to distinguish between a nation’s hard power and its soft power. The hard power of the US, for instance, is its military capacity and its economic strength. Its soft power is might be the cultural influence of Hollywood, the social influence of its press, or the good feeling felt by millions of children around the globe towards Ronald McDonald or Captain America.

SOUNDBITE [English] Joe Cook, Writer: “The soft power of the UK is considered to be a persuasive approach using cultural and economic means, whereas the UK hard power would be considered to be military might, aggression, war or policing.”

Narration: So it is with the British monarchy. Part of its power, as we have seen, is hard power. The power of wealth, of landed property, of direct political influence. But perhaps it has even greater influence in its exercise of soft power the ideological and cultural influence that the Royal Family exerts in British society.

SOUNDBITE [English] Dan Poulton, Editorial Board Counterfire Co.: “Well I think in terms of hard and soft powers of the royal family, there’s a clear backstop that happens in British agricultural life, they do sanction any political party that comes into power, in fact in the 1970s they overturned the election of a progressive prime minister in Australia because it went so far against the royal families, so they actually do have the power to overturn governments, these things they rarely use, partly because to do that does require drawing into public awareness the actual power of the monarchy has, like the black spider memos. We’re told actually that they’re just a kind of icing on the cake, they’re just a kind of tourist attraction, they’re just symbolic figureheads, and so on, but actually with the black spider memos you find out that no, they’re actually interfering in the daily life on the regular basis around the Scottish independence campaign, they’re actually interfering in the democratic process, going on inside Britain, so there’s always the kind of dance between their hard and soft power, so when they use it, when they bring out the big guns, they expose themselves so they’re very careful, the British ruling classes, very careful, about how they, where they step in and where they don’t.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Tamasin Cave, Director at Spinwatch: “It’s very difficult to actually tell what power and influence the Monarchy has over the government because it’s so secret. We don’t know who’s speaking to who and we don’t know who’s having a quiet word with who about which policies. So I see it’s the tip of a very large iceberg. We have a 2 billion pound industry that we know nothing about. The royalty are part of that they are exceptional because they have this kind of magic shield around them which is part of the costume and the dressing up that they do, we don’t sort of question their rules, as much as we should but we should look at really, who out of everybody, I mean, we need to look at the whole industry, they are lobbies, they have private commercial interests.”

Narration: The Royal family is quite deliberately used by the British establishment as a traditional symbol of a hierarchical and elitist society.

SOUNDBITE [English] Neil Faulkner, Historian and Writer: “The media collaborates in the cover up, it covers up in massaging the news in order to cover-up and play anything which is critical of the royal family and what it also does is, it pumps up all of the kind of bread and nonsense, the hello magazine, celebrity kind of culture, which surrounds them. So there’s a royal wedding, a royal baby or whatever and they turn it into a jam which is something out of ancient rome, or something out of medieval England, a completely kind of feudal sort of obsession with these extraordinary rich.”

Narration: After all, if people in Britain can be got to accept one incredibly wealthy individual whose position as the nominal head of state and church, and chief of the armed forces, is hereditary, then why should they not accept an entire ruling elite based on similarly undemocratic principles.

The existence of the monarchy is based on the idea of perpetual inequality as the natural order. It bolsters the old adages that seek to ensure that the status quo remains undisturbed. This is the world where ‘the poor are always with us’, where there will always be ‘the rich man in his castle and the poor man at his gate’.

SOUNDBITE [English] Andrew Feinstein, Former MP at African National Congress and Author: “If the purpose of the monarchy is a tourist attraction, we should do two things, we should add a small levy onto the taxes and fees people come into the UK anyway. And that could fund the British monarchy, rather than be funded through hard-earned taxpayers pounds and pence. That’s the first thing. The second thing is, if what they’re meant to be is a tourist attraction then they should stay well out of any public debates that constitutionally they shouldn’t be involved in anyway. So Prince Andrew, should not be rushing around the world like a bufoon to highly inappropriate governments. Prince Charles should not be writing letters to people in decision making positions to try and ensure that his vision of what the UK should look like architecturally is imposed on their country. Then they can be just a tourist attraction. Then I would have less of a problem. But as long as we are paying for their extremely luxurious lifestyle, I think we also have to have a right to determine what they do and don’t do.”

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Narration: This is a world where the poor and disadvantaged are supposed to find solace in gazing on the finery of the Royals. Where everything from the Crown Jewels to Kate Middleton’s wedding dress is supposed to bring ‘glamour’ to lives where even small luxuries cost a week’s wages.

The majority of the press encourage us to forget our own troubles and worry about the happiness or otherwise of the characters in the Royal soap opera. William and Kate’s happy marriage, Diana and Charles unhappy marriage, are talked about as if they matter more than the trials and joys of our own friend and relatives.

SOUNDBITE [English] Tamasin Cave, Director at Spinwatch: “They have a very sophisticated PR machine, they are a brand that needs to be looked after and they have engaged in any other process as any other entity, brand, engages in, so any bad stories they will sink to quash and keep out of the media and they will pump it full of good stories.”

Narration: The unacceptable racist ramblings of the Duke of Edinburgh are suppressed, the unfortunate nonsense let slip by Prince Andrew is excused, the less appealing members of the family, like Fergie, are hidden from view or expelled from the clan.

SOUNDBITE [English] Andrew Feinstein, Former MP at African National Congress and Author: “It is worth remembering this is not a family who have exactly covered themselves in glory by the way they’ve behaved, I mean Prince Andrew’s father the Duke of Edinburgh has on numerous occasions been overheard making quite racist comments, highly inappropriate comments, I mean one of the members of the royal family, Prince Harry, found to be dressing up in a Nazi uniform for a fancy dress party.”

Narration: Every charitable gesture or good work, on the other hand, is magnified. It is the work of PR experts, spin-doctors and the loyal royal correspondents. But it is a national myth. And it is only partly believed.

SOUNDBITE [English] Neil Faulkner, Historian and Writer: “The royal family is of course packaged as a family people who are doing good work, raising money for charity and that kind of thing. That’s all part of the packaging, it’s a necessary part of the packaging, the reality is quite different, the reality is that they are a central institution in a very conservative and traditional political order. But they are also, despite the fact that they are in a sense a leftover from feudalism they’re also doing the business of modern British capitalism.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Joe Cook, Writer: “The UK would be far better off without a monarchy, just in terms of monetary value. The 45 billion pounds that they’re worth could be re-distributed to a whole host of good causes, social-workers, fire-fighters, the homeless, etc etc. in this time of austerity, supposedly there is a 600% rise in food banks, why doesn’t the Queen or the Monarchy distribute just one of their palaces, of their castles to that. There’s people going hungry in this country, and I don’t see the Queen participating in that movement. We as the people wouldn’t be subjects, we’d be citizens. Finally, just to add one more thing, it’s still illegal to discuss republicanism as an alternative to Monarchy, that’s something that needs to be repealed in Parliament if we are to be taken seriously as a democracy.”

Narration: Despite the years of pro-Royal propaganda some 30 percent think that the UK would be better off without a monarch. That figure rises to 50 percent in Scotland. Some 60 percent are against Prince Charles becoming King when the current Queen dies.

SOUNDBITE [English] Dan Poulton, Editorial Board Counterfire Co.: “The easiest question to answer, is would the UK be better off without a royal family. Yes it would. Of course it wouldn’t be the UK, it wouldn’t be the United Kingdom, it would be a democratic country, in fact it would be much smaller in an ideal world. It wouldn’t encroach into any of the land mass of Ireland, it wouldn’t even encroach onto Scotland. Over 50% now actually want to separate, 60% say it’s inevitable there will be a separation. This can only be a good thing, because this sort of bundle of small countries in a small part in the European landmass, have had exponential, disproportionate range over the entire planet for centuries, and for that to come to an end could only be a good thing.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Neil Faulkner, Historian and Writer: “There is no question at all that Britain would be a much healthier place without the Monarchy. But the Monarchy is only one of a number of antiquated institutions which are barriers to real democracy, the house of Lords is another our dysfunctional electoral system, the first past the post system is third. There are many others you can think of. The British political system needs a radical overhaul, even to create a modern parliamentary democracy. We need to see very radical changes indeed, in the way in which we make decisions if the interests of ordinary people are going to be reflected going forwards.”

Narration: There is likely to be a crisis of confidence, if not a constitutional crisis when the Queen is succeeded by Charles. It will be a moment when ordinary citizens in the UK have to examine whether an hereditary, hugely wealthy, unconstitutionally influential, politically reactionary institution is still the best adornment of a supposedly democratic society in the 21st century.


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