Britain’s Prince Andrew’s connection to the Jeffrey Epstein scandal as a friend of the billionaire sex trafficker and serial abuser — though not, it must be said, revealed as yet to have been party to the man’s crimes — further emphasises the need in Britain to take seriously the abolition of the monarchy.
Such a step is now not only desirable to those whose sensibilities have long been justly offended at the continuing existence of this semi-feudal institution at the apex of British society and public life; it is now necessary in order to allow the development of the UK into something approximating to a full and mature democracy.
The monarchy’s abolition is also required in order to end the huge outlay of public money devoted to its maintenance. In a time of savage Tory austerity and disgraceful levels of poverty and despairit has inflicted on millions of British citizens, such an outlay and the luxury it supports takes on the character of a grotesque. Equally important is the need to liberate the Royal Family itself, whose members are forced to live a wholly unnatural existence in what amounts to a gilded cage, wherein their every word and deed is pored over and scrutinised by an evermore intrusive and aggressive media.
Whether or not Prince Andrew has any questions to answer over his relationship to Jeffrey Epstein — and here it should be borne in mind that despite Epstein’s previous conviction in 2008 for sexual offences, Andrew chose to remain friends with him — the man has spent his life filling his boots at the British taxpayer’s expense.
His penchant for luxury travel, much it funded by the public, is of a piece with his reputation for a dissolute jet set lifestyle in the company of various unsavoury characters, Epstein being just one, whose sources of wealth are dubious indeed.
This said the case for abolishing the monarchy runs far deeper than the character of Prince Andrew or any other royal. On far more persuasive level it revolves around questions of identity, values and justice. If indeed, as Honore de Balzac proclaimed, it is the case that ‘Behind every great fortune lies a crime’, then the crime of monarchy is that it presupposes a royal ‘we’ and a commoner ‘us’, which is predicated on nothing more substantive than luck.
Such a division is incompatible with enlightenment values of equality of opportunity and meritocracy. It is in fact their very antithesis and sits at the opposite end of a social spectrum in which most who are born into poverty find themselves trapped in an unbreakable cycle beyond which lies a quality of life commensurate with a civilised society and the sixth richest economy in the world.
There is, ultimately, nothing royal about the Royal Family. Its dysfunction, the character deficiencies of its members, past and present, compounds the inherently regressive nature of an institution that relies on nothing more solid than procreation for its perpetuation.
As for its newest addition, Meghan Markel, here we have a Hollywood actress who, by dint of marriage, has been turned overnight into the Duchess of Sussex, waited on hand and foot by a retinue of flunkeys and servants (staff in the modern parlance), again at the expense of the British public purse.
In the second decade of the 21stcentury, this is absurd.
Relegating this tired anachronism to the past is a necessary but not sufficient condition when it comes to affecting the UK’s passage into modernity. Following it on its journey to the dust heap of history must go the UK’s unelected second chamber, the House of Lords, its elite public school system (tantamount to a production of line of class privilege in of itself), and the entire apparatus of British patronage that is an insult to the very concept of democracy.
As to the actual cost of this monument to class privilege and status, in 2018–2019 it came to £67 million ($81.5 million), a 41% increase on the previous year. The main reason cited for such a huge increase in one year was the refurbishment of London’s Buckingham Palace. Compare and contrast with the fact that at time of writing the burned out shell of Grenfell Tower residential block of flats in London, where 72 people perished in a fire in June 2017, is yet to be refurbished over two years on.
No, rather than an institution to revere, a pillar of stability and continuity amid the flux of modern life, the British monarchy increasingly resembles an ossified relic of the past, reflective of a country whose weak foundations and decline have been exposed by Brexit.
Speaking of which, in their work Rule Britannia: Brexit and the End of Empire, co-authors Danny Dorling and Sally Tomlinson make the compelling argument that rather than symptomatic of Britain’s assertion of independence and sovereignty, the “EU referendum showed up the last throes of empire-thinking working its way out of the British psyche,” with “its deepest roots embedded firmly in the ashes of the British Empire.”
The same could be said of the monarchy, with its abolition thus now an idea whose time has come.