By William J. Furney
The UK’s TV stations are falling over themselves with mostly gushing programmes about unpopular Charles and how he got to where he is today — from humble prince babbling about plants to about to be crowned king, following the death of his admired mother last year.
The other night I watched back-to-back programmes on several British channels, including BBC 2 and Channel 4 — the latter an edgy, lefty broadcaster that, unsurprisingly, aired a programme mocking the royal family and its monarchs all the way back to bulging, wife-beheading King Henry VIII and beyond (Frankie Boyle’s Farewell to the Monarchy).
But no matter how much royalist material the stations put out, the great British public are not having it, and apathy perhaps best describes the mood toward the dysfunctional family with one invective-filled member-pair self-exiled in sunny California, only one of the four-member family choosing to fly across the pond to attend Saturday’s grand ceremony in London.
Many, including yours truly, predicted a demise of the royals following the cherished queen’s passing. Elizabeth II’s long reign, of over 70 years, was infused with dedication and service, and in her dotage she became the omnipotent grandmother of the nation, admired by young and old. Not so with Charles and second-wife Camilla, whom polls suggest only 2% of Brits want to be crowned queen (preferring the lesser title of queen consort).
An extensive survey by the National Centre for Social Research, using polling data from 2022 and this year, shows Britons’ support for the monarchy at a record low. Only 29% of those polled said the centuries-old institution was “very important” and a quarter of respondents said it was “not at all important/abolish” it.
The rapid change in views of Charles and his family comes at a time when many people in Britain are struggling with record-high energy and food bills, forcing people who would never have dreamed otherwise of using food banks. The ongoing cost-of-living crisis, in part driven by the Ukraine war, is in stark contrast to the sum the taxpayer gives the royal family — a staggering £102.4 million in 2021/2022. The entire country seems to be on rolling strikes over pay; currently it’s the turn of teachers, nurses and doctors.
And then there’s the cost of Charles’ crowning: around £100 million. But at the weekend, the Mirror reported, citing a knowledgeable source, that the true cost would be more in the region of £250 million. Charles is said to be a multibillionaire and, due to his stature, avoided paying inheritance tax when his mother died. Many are saying the king, not the struggling public, should fork out for his big day out, and they’re not wrong.
Mirror Associate Editor Kevin Maguire wrote, in a piece looking at rising support for axing the monarchy, that the royal family is a “fundamentally undemocratic racket.” and that “[w]hatever grip the monarchy had died with the queen”.
“The gold coach-riding elite’s elite is terrified of scrutiny when this weekend’s pomp and ceremony will be largely ignored or resented by an increasingly cash-strapped population funding a medieval charade for a chap worth roughly £1.8 billion,” he wrote.
A Millennial colleague of mine recently wrote a piece about the royals and the coronation, branding the whole shebang “insulting” and arguing that the monarchy has no place in modern British society. None of her friends and colleagues of the same generation support the royal family, she said.
Anti-monarchy group Republic has seen donations surge following the queen’s passing, and has expanded its operation to take on more staff. It’s planning a mass protest along the coronation route in London, with republicans holding up yellow signs reading “Not My King”. So far, over 15,000 people have signed a petition set up by Republic calling for a public vote on the future of the monarchy.
Monarchists maintain the royals are good for the UK, a steady, trusted, reassuring hand in a world of constant turmoil and when elected heads of state can sometimes cause chaos. They claim the monarchy is good value and trot out the tired and erroneous assertion that the royal family bring in lots of tourism cash — a nonsense when you consider that no one visits the UK in the hope of seeing a royal, and their palaces are mostly off limits. France, which got rid of its royals centuries ago, has a bigger tourism industry and former royal palaces are open to the public.
Vernon Bogdanor, a constitutional monarchy expert at King’s College London, said the Britain when Queen Elizabeth was crowned was vastly different than it is today and that more Brits are starting to question why they have a royal family at all — and one mired in continual scandal too.
“In 1953, Britain was a very deferential society. Now, it’s a competitive society, based on people who’ve earned their position through achievement. Therefore, the monarchy is bound to attract more skepticism,” he told The New York Times.
Fearing extinction, Charles wants a “slimmed-down” monarchy, and has even booted his squabbling son and daughter-in-law Harry and Megan out of their royal London home — they live in La-La Land anyway. But the king’s sister, Anne — famously the most sensible and “hard-working” of the lot — disagrees.
“Well, I think the ‘slimmed down’ was said in a day when there were a few more people around. It doesn’t sound like a good idea from where I’m standing, I would say. I’m not quite sure what else we can do,” she said in an interview with Canadian broadcaster CBC.
Almost certainly, as people around the world watch the historic event on Saturday, their minds will drift to the “Queen of Hearts”, Charles’ first wife, the late Diana, whom while married he cheated on with Camilla. Before her death in a car crash in a Paris tunnel in 1997, Diana held the affection of the nation, at times even eclipsing that of the queen — and she knew she would never be one, saying in her infamous interview in 1995 with Martin Bashir that “I don’t see myself being the queen of this country. I don’t think many people will want me to be queen”.
Almost three decades later, a growing part of the UK population doesn’t want queens or kings.
Fundamentally, in today’s world, no one by accident of birth should be entitled to vast wealth, privileges and an entitled status that says they are better than ordinary people. On Saturday, British people will be asked, dictator-like, to “swear that I will pay true allegiance to Your Majesty”, a request that would not be out of place in North Korea.
If anyone is going to lead a state, it should be the people’s choice, good or bad; they can be voted out next election if the electorate is not pleased. A country belongs to its citizens, not a bloodline, something more people than ever in the UK are now realising.
Charles’ outlandish crowning may well be the British royal family’s eventual dethroning.