Royal Accounts are all Spin
The Queen's lack of financial transparency fuels speculation that she is avoiding tax on a massive scale.
The Queen's spin doctors were working overtime this week to put a "value for money" gloss on the royal finances. When Elizabeth II's accounts for 2005-2006 were revealed yesterday, her courtiers proudly boasted that the Royal Family costs the public a mere £37.4 million a year or 62p per person - a bargain they claimed. What nonsense. This is PR manipulation worthy of the dark manoeuvrings of Tony Blair's sidekick Alistair Campbell.
The Palace is guilty of misleading the public. Even if it was true that the Monarchy costs only £37 million a year, this is 20 times the cost of the elected Irish President and nearly four times the cost of the President of Germany. It is not good value for money at all.
The real cost of the Monarchy is more like £150 million a year, when you factor in security costs, grants, unpaid tax and the cost to local councils of royal visits. The expenditure on royal security alone was reported by The Times in 2004 to amount to nearly £100 million annually.
If we had a low-cost, purely ceremonial President like the Irish, the surplus money could be spent on more worthwhile causes, like funding treatments for NHS patients who are currently being denied vital drugs for arthritis and breast cancer because of budget deficits and cost-cutting. Alternatively, it could fund thousands more nurses, doctors, teachers and police officers.
The Queen's PR people want us to believe that we have a frugal monarchy - that the Queen is making great economies. Pull the other one. Take the example of the Royal Train. The Queen used it for 11 official journeys, at a cost of £700,000. This included one trip to Brighton, which left the taxpayer with a bill of £19,271 for a 100 mile round trip. Pure extravagance.
They can spin all they like, but yesterday's royal accounts are a sham. Sadly, much of the media and most politicians are too deferential and awed by the "majesty of monarchy" to challenge the way this super-rich family milk the public and then con us into believing that they are transparent and good value.
Despite our supposed democracy, proper public scrutiny of the royal finances is almost impossible. Even MPs are routinely frustrated in their attempts to get answers. Parliamentary Questions are often disallowed. Persistent questioning over many months is often necessary, and even then lots of perfectly reasonable questions are deemed unacceptable and off-limits. This is an outrageous abuse of royal privilege by palace courtiers and their flunkeys in government and the civil service.
If you don't believe me, watch my Talking With Tatchell TV interview with the Labour MP Andrew MacKinlay, where, among other things, he cites the obstruction he has faced in attempting to get answers about the true extent of royal income, property and tax.
Click here to watch the interview: http://doughty.gdbtv.com/player.php?h=c7df2ba254804cf535ae2e35baabe25e
These are the facts: we, the British people, are denied the right to know the Queen's income and the amount of tax she pays. In this modern, democratic era it is, frankly, quite intolerable for the Monarch to exempt herself from the disclosures expected of other public officials.
Her Majesty is one of the richest people in the world, yet there is no evidence that she pays tax on all her income, or that she pays tax at the same rate as the rest of us. She says she pays tax. I believe her. But how much tax on what income is a complete mystery. Like an absolute feudal monarch, she refuses to be honest and open with the people. Her lack of transparency fuels speculation that she is avoiding tax on a massive scale.
There are serious allegations that Prince Charles avoids paying around £500,000 a year in corporation tax and capital gains tax on his Duchy estate. The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, chaired by Conservative ex-Minister Edward Leigh, last year called on the Prince of Wales to make a full and honest disclosure of all his finances, amid accusations that he has, over the years, avoided paying millions of pounds in tax. When he was Chancellor, Gordon Brown defended exempting the Prince and the Queen from capital gains and corporation tax.
Republic, The campaign for an elected Head of State, is calling for greater openness and accountability with regard to the royal finances.
Graham Smith, Republic's campaign manager, is highly critical of the way the Royal Household mischievously portrays itself as being net contributor to the exchequer. He cites Professor Phillip Hall:
"It is claimed by the Queen that the monarchy costs this country nothing because she gives the revenue from the Crown Estate to the nation, and therefore is subsidising the Royal Family.Because it is described as the Queen 'surrendering' the revenue from the Crown Estate in return for the Civil List allocation, it is mistakenly assumed that this 'surrendering' is a personal financial sacrifice on her part for the good of the nation. And this fantasy is enthusiastically perpetuated by monarchists. The truth is rather different.
"The Crown Estate and its revenue have never been the private property of the Queen, or any of her predecessors. The Crown Estate is officially described as 'hereditary possessions of the Sovereign', not the personal possessions of the individual acting as Sovereign.
"She cannot give us what she has never owned. Her role is simply one of an individual - Elizabeth Windsor - acting in her constitutional role - the Sovereign - performing her constitutional duty and overseeing the transfer to the government of the income from a totally separate legal entity - the Crown. The Queen incurs absolutely no financial loss in this transfer process.
"The Crown's legal status is that of a corporation sole, an independent legal entity with the right to hold assets. To suggest that Elizabeth Windsor personally 'owns' and 'gives' the assets and revenues of this incorporated body is as ludicrous as suggesting that the Chairman of British Airways personally 'owns' and 'gives' the assets and tax revenues of the incorporated body he represents.
"If the monarchy were to disappear tomorrow, the Crown Estate would continue to do what it has always done for nearly one thousand years - provide income for the administration of this country," he concluded.
I rest my case. The limited disclosure and large-scale massaging of the royal finances is a national disgrace. It brings the Royal Family into disrepute and reinforces the case for a democratically elected and fully accountable head of state.
More info: Republic: www.republic.org.uk
Click here to return to the Politics Index Click here to return to the Republic Index