The Jubilee Bank Holiday is the Worst Deal in the World

We’re being mugged off.

by Moya Lothian-McLean

31 May 2022

Fans camp outside Buckingham Palace ahead of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, May 2022. Henry Nicholls/Reuters

Imagine a scene: I stand before you, arms outstretched, proposing a trade. I will receive seven decades of uninterrupted rule as an unelected head of state, an estimated personal wealth of nearly £400m, on top of assets valued at a cool £22.2bn. And I’ll have some public money too, with the state funding my lifestyle to the tune of £85m. Oh, throw in the entitlement to operate above the law, and an enduring, unconscious agreement that somehow, me and my descendants are blessed with the divine right to rule over others

In return you – peasantry you! – will be entitled to: one extra bank holiday, provided you are not self-employed, work in the service industry or don’t have a job that allows you to take it off, of course.

This, simply put, is the worst deal in the world. But it’s the very real scenario that faces Britain, Northern Ireland and some Commonwealth territories as we finally reach the week of ‘celebrations’ that mark Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee. Never has the mythology of the British monarchy seemed so obviously threadbare. As the political and cultural relevance of the Crown wanes, what remains is a system that entrenches subjugation for subjugation’s sake. 

Rationally, it’s plain to see that the royals don’t earn anywhere near their keep – or their elevated status. Tourist revenue is often cited as a reason the monarchy needs to continue, with attractions like official royal residences and art collections pulling in an estimated £19bn pre-pandemic, although that income, naturally, declined by 53% in 2020/2021. 

But tourism doesn’t require the existence of live monarchs; it’s not like Her Majesty is doing meet and greets outside Buckingham Palace. Tourists flock to the places, not the people. Versailles, one of the jewels of the French tourism industry, hasn’t been inhabited by royalty since 1793, even after intermittent restorations of the French monarchy. Yet it welcomes around ten million visitors a year. By comparison, the record for the total number of people who visited the official royal residences of the British monarchy is just over three million. 

Any person objectively evaluating the royals would conclude that their subjects are being somewhat mugged off. Yet it doesn’t really matter how many times you point out that it doesn’t make sense that we’re still ruled by a single family based on a rationale that basically amounts to ‘they have mAgIc bLoOd’. Or that we’re getting exactly nothing in return. For a nation obsessed with getting a fair shake, all rationality flies out the window when it comes to the monarchy. The majority of Britain is still all too eager to remain crushed under the royal court heel, their attachment fully emotional. The question is: how long can that last? 

As Politico put it last year, the British monarchy has a “succession problem”. Elizabeth is still popular. But her immediate successor – the hapless Charles – is not. A series of scandals, including Prince Andrew’s particularly nasty sexual assault case, have tarnished the royal brand. What’s more, the power of the British monarchy in the remaining overseas Commonwealth realms (the countries where the Queen is still head of state) has been very publicly challenged this year. The last dregs of empire, frequently cited as an argument for the Crown’s continuation, are finally running dry.

Following two separate royal tours, six of the remaining 14 Commonwealth realms have indicated plans to become republics, and amplified calls for reparations to be paid to countries impacted by the British slave trade – which the monarchy directly participated in and profited from. Questions the British public should be asking are being posed by others. “What are they doing for Jamaica?” queried dancehall legend Beenie Man in an ITV News interview. “They’re not doing anything for us.”

Research suggests that when Elizabeth – ahem – departs the throne, she’ll take with her a hefty helping of the imperial nostalgia that’s helped the monarchy keep on operating. The Queen represents a particular illusion of a Britain of yore, not unlike 20th century pastoral myths that hark back to a (non-existent) rural English idyll, often invoking an endless summer. Her reign evokes a yearning for a time ‘before’ when things were better somehow, communities were closer, life was simpler, when people really knew their place in society. This myth is a bulwark against the march of modernity, and Queen Elizabeth is a living relic of a past already archived and transformed from complex reality into dreamy fantasy.

I understand all this. As a young person mourning the loss of options that once existed, I too feel the pull of an imagined past. Nostalgia is often the first port of call when the walls of the present feel like they’re closing in, and Christ knows for millions of people, the immediate future is bleak. But the royals offer no balm to that. Although the public currently backs the continuation of the monarchy, with the end of the second Elizabethan era, there may be the opportunity for a gradual re-evaluation of the royals. At some point, surely, somebody has to ask what we – the general public – are really getting out of propping up an active monarchy. Both practically and psychologically, the presence of the royals is an incredible drain. It’s time we made some new myths.

Moya Lothian-McLean is a contributing editor at Novara Media.


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