Graham Smith, aged 44, has long been a republican. When he was 12 years old he refused to join hundreds of millions around the world watching Prince Andrew’s wedding to Sarah Ferguson. Now there is another royal wedding, but Smith still won’t be watching, as he is CEO of Republic, a UK cross-party anti monarchist group, which wants to be rid of the royals for good.
Others, such as Jacques Arnold, former Conservative MP, and council member of the Constitutional Monarchy Association, say the UK monarchy has “been the most outstandingly successful in the globe” and acts as the “supreme referee” of politics.
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While many monarchies have been brought down by revolutions, Britain’s has lasted centuries, despite a brief republic (1649 to 1660) after the execution of Charles I. Smith however, believes it’s possible for the UK to transition peacefully.
Republic has two full-time paid employees, 40,000 supporters, and according to Smith has grown from “a couple of hundred” members in 2003 to “four or five thousand now.” It is fighting for a referendum to abolish the British monarchy and replace it with an elected head of state. “We only have to win [a referendum] once and it’s done, and they won’t come back,” Smith told WikiTribune.
On May 19 he will speak at the Alliance of European Republican Movements (AERM) 2018 conference, taking place in London on the same day as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding. Other speakers include the royal couple’s local Kensington MP, Emma Dent Coad.
Coad once said of the prince’s military career, “Harry can’t actually fly a helicopter,” during a republican fringe event at the Labour 2017 conference (The Guardian). At least 100 people are expected at the AERM conference, with representatives from Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Sweden.
Despite support for the British monarchy varying between 65 and 80 percent from 1993 to 2016, according to IPSOS, Smith said: “We’re not a country of republicans, but we’re not a country of monarchists either – we’re in a country of people that don’t care that much.”
According to Republic’s latest poll, conducted by Yougov, 66 percent of Brits are not interested in Harry and Meghan’s wedding. Arnold told WikiTribune, “with the popularity of the monarchy in recent years, there’s been very little supportive work that we’ve needed to do.”
The Constitutional Monarchy Association was set up around the “particularly difficult days” of the Queen’s self-diagnosed annus horribilis of 1992 (Latin for “horrible year”), during which Windsor Castle caught fire, Princess Diana exposed Prince Charles’s affair with Camilla Parker Bowles, and three of Queen Elizabeth’s four children ended their marriages.
How much does the British monarchy really cost?
While IPSOS’s last 2016 survey showed 76 percent of Brits support the monarchy, according to Republic’s latest poll, 57 percent believe the royals should pay for this wedding, including the cost of policing and security which will be borne by the UK taxpayer. One estimate of the security costs for Harry and Meghan’s wedding puts the total at over £30m.
Republic said the true annual cost of the monarchy is £345 million ($465m) a year, including the cost of royal visits overseas and lost money from the two royal duchies (income which goes to the monarch and the heir). Arnold said costs like security and royal visits would still exist with presidents, and estimates the British monarchy’s cost at £30-50 million ($40-65m).
The Crown Estate (lands and buildings formerly owned by the monarchy now managed by a semi-independent, incorporated public body) reports (PDF) it made £328.8m profit in the 2016-2017 financial year and that the Sovereign Grant (salaries of the Queen’s household, official travel and upkeep of palace) for 2017-18 was £76.1m (PDF), but its reports excludes the costs of security to the taxpayer.
However, crucially, the real debate lies in whether the royals’ existence contributes to the UK economy and the Crown Estate’s earnings – money raised from its shopping centers, leasing of land and tourist attractions, among other things.
We’re not a country of republicans, but we’re not a country of monarchists either — we’re in a country of people that don’t care that much – Graham Smith
Business valuation consultancy Brand Finance (BF) estimated in 2017 that the monarchy’s annual contribution to the UK economy was roughly £1.8bn a year, adding an additional £550m of tourism revenues annually (The Independent).
However, Smith said “BF figures are nonsense.” The £550 million figure comes from “any revenue associated with any heritage site which has any connection at all with the royal family, so it’s really stretching credibility to suggest that these, [are] any way related to the fact that we have a monarchy, when they’re including things like St. Paul’s Cathedral,” he said.
Since Queen Elizabeth decided to open Buckingham Palace to the public in 1993, to help pay for repairs after the 1992 Windsor Castle fire, the palace’s state rooms have been open for 10 weeks each summer, while she goes to her private estate of Balmoral Castle in Scotland.
The queen wasn’t obliged to do this since Windsor Castle is owned by the Crown Estate, but the idea repairs would be funded by the public was unpopular (The Guardian). Arnold told WikiTribune her decision was “very good, housewifely economics.”
However, responding to the idea that if the UK were a republic Buckingham Palace could be open and generating income all year round, Arnold said that “depends whether you see it as a theme park. It is actually the location of the head of state of this country.”
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Arnold speculated that the odds are the next three successors (currently: Charles aged 69, William 35, and William’s son, George, aged four) will do their jobs “extremely well.” Arnold said that “it’s possible that the people may find it difficult” to come to terms with Charles succeeding “because … [he] carries the baggage of a failed marriage.”
Arnold added, however, that Camilla is “very representative of our age and a very warm human being with it, and that counts for a lot.”
Meanwhile Smith said a UK republic will mostly likely happen after the current queen [aged 92] dies, as after that there will be a “controversial king.” “Almost all people, by the time the Queen dies, will never have witnessed a succession and … it’s going to be really jarring and a lot of people are going to say ‘okay, well, you know, this isn’t right.'”
He said that after Prince Charles succeeds it’s “highly unlikely” that Australia will still be a monarchy ten years later, and that if that happens, “New Zealand would follow suit relatively quickly,” with Canada “hot on their heels.” Those three countries, along with 13 others of the Commonwealth, currently have the queen as head of state, despite robust Republican movements. (Although Queen Elizabeth is head of the 53-nation Commonwealth, the situation is complex and she is head of state in only 16.)
We can all be loyal to it, be we a socialist or a conservative or a liberal – Jacques Arnold
Smith also argued that examination of the largely ceremonial presidencies of Germany, Ireland or Italy reveals they “cost a fraction” of the UK monarchy. However, Arnold disagreed, saying the cost of the UK monarchy is “substantially less” than the president of Germany.
In 2014, monarchist website Royal Central said the costs of French, German and Italian presidents were more than the British monarchy, at £91 million, £30.8m and £181.5m respectively. Channel 4’s Fact check does not provide a direct comparison as it uses more recent statistics, but it evaluated the UK’s monarchy as costing £180 million a year, which is more expensive than either France or Germany.
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Also, France’s presidential role is largely political, rather than ceremonial, so not equivalent to the British monarch’s role.
Nevertheless, Arnold said that monarchs are not partisan, so “we can all be loyal to it, be we a socialist or a conservative or a liberal.”