By Dr George Venturini
The Queen was embroiled in a tax row after it emerged her private estate is among the ranks of the mega-rich secretly investing cash in offshore tax havens.
More than 13 million leaked financial documents, dubbed the Paradise Papers, alleged that the Duchy of Lancaster, which handles the Queen’s £500 million estate and investments, has held funds in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda.
Around £10 million of the Queen’s private cash is said to have been tied up in offshore portfolios, the B.B.C. reported. There is nothing to suggest that any investments are illegal, the broadcaster added.
The estate also had small investments in the controversial rent-to-buy retailer BrightHouse and the Threshers chain of off-licences, which went bust owing £17.5 million in tax and costing almost 6,000 people their livelihood.
BrightHouse was ordered to pay £14.8 million pounds to 249,000 customers after the financial watchdog found it had treated them unfairly.
The Duchy informed the B.B.C. that it was not involved in decisions made by funds and there is no suggestion the Queen had any knowledge of the specific investments made on her behalf. Of course! (‘What are the Panama Papers? A guide to history’s biggest data leak’, 5 April 2016, The Guardian).
On 27 June 2018 the Royal Household published its annual financial statement, The Sovereign Grant Report, which revealed how much money the Queen receives, among other things. (‘Sovereign Gant Act 2011,The Sovereign Grant and Sovereign Grant Reserve Annual Report and Accounts 2017- 18’,presented to Parliament pursuant to Section 2 and Section 4 of the Sovereign Grant Act 2011, ordered by the House of Commons to be printed 27 June 2018; ‘Sovereign Grant Report: How much money the UK gives Queen …’ cbnc.com).
The Queen’s income is from several streams, including the Sovereign Grant, which is the portion of the Queen’s money which is provided by the taxpayers and is to be used for her official duties.
Overall, the official Sovereign Grant for 1 April 2017 to 31 March 2018 was a substantial sum of £76.1 million (AU$137,199,555 as at the end of 2018). For 2018 to 2019 the Sovereign Grant was called to provide £82.2 million (A$148,182,844 million), according to the Royal Household.
For 2016 to 2017 the Sovereign Grant was £ 42.8 million (AU$104,934,319 million). About £30.4 million (AU$54,811,053 million) of the increase this year is for the renovation of Buckingham Palace, a decade-long project overhauling building services including electrical wiring, pipe-work, boilers and generators.
The Report also revealed that the public funds used by the Queen for official expenditure duties increased 13 per cent, climbing from £41.9 million (AU$75,535,953 million) in 2016/17 to £47.4 million (AU$85,451,173 million) for 2017-2018, mostly due to increased spending on maintenance of the Palace.
The Sovereign Grant is made up of a percentage of the income generated by the Crown Estate, an independent commercial property business owned by the reigning monarch. The Crown Estate generates profits, which are then paid to the Treasury, and from there, a portion is paid to the Queen through the Sovereign Grant.
The Sovereign Grant funds the Queen’s official duties, as well as maintenance of the royal palaces, payroll and other staff costs.
Some expenditures not covered by the Sovereign Grant, primarily the expenses of other ‘Royal Family’ members, are covered by income generated by the Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall, separate portfolios of land also owned by the reigning monarch and the heir to the throne, respectively.
The Queen uses income from her personal investment portfolio and privates estates to meet her private expenses, according to the Royal Household. Forbes most recently estimated the Queen’s net worth at AU$752,437,536 million in 2016.
But the ‘Royals’ are not just getting paid to post up at the Palace; they kept busy, according to the Report. Over the course of her reign, the Report states that the Queen has sent 254,000 “congratulatory telegrams to centenarians on their 100th birthdays” as well as 784,000 messages to couples celebrating their “Diamond Wedding anniversaries,” which is 60 years. Last year, the Queen undertook 154 official engagements.
In terms of travel, the ‘Royal Family’ attended over 3,000 official engagements – both in the United Kingdom and overseas – in the past year, according to the Report. And so much travel does not come cheap: 38 trips taken by the ‘Royal Family’ and staff last year had travel costs of £15,000 (over AU$27,045) or more.
The most expensive trips included the Prince Charles of Wales and Camilla’s 10-day trip in November to Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia and India, which cost £362,000 (AU$652,688). Charles’ sister Anne, the Princess Royal, took a four-day visit to Ghana and Sierra Leone in April 2017, which cost £69,000 (AU$111,778). And Prince William and Kate’s five-day trip to Poland and Germany in July cost £62,000 (AU$81,000). (S. Berger, ‘Here’s how much money the Queen gets (Spoiler: She got a big ‘raise’), C.N.B.C., 3 July 2918, Sovereign Grant Report: How much money the UK gives Queen …’, cnbc.com).
Matters which concern money and the ‘Royal Family’ are always a source of awe and uncertainty. For instance: what does it mean to say that ‘The Queen technically owns the Crown Estate’?
And how could one be so audacious as to ask: “How much does the Royal Family cost?” or “What do the Queen’s accounts really tell us?” Better not to ask many questions.
Uncertainty, guesstimates and approximation, along with ancient ‘rituals’ and ceremonies, do wonder to generate mindless ‘respect’. Asking questions could be turned into sedition, ‘leasing-making’ – more elegantly lèse majesté. ‘Rituals’, processions, parades, marching-as-a-substitute-for-thought, ‘spectacles’ and pompous ceremonies are for uneducated people the occasion and way of expressing feelings of loyalty – similar to the pledge of ‘belonging’ which is demanded by fanatical religions.
It is important always to keep in mind what the 19th century essayist Bagehot wrote of the monarchy: “Its mystery is its life. We must not let in daylight upon the magic.” (W. Bagehot, The English Constitution, Chapman & Hall, London, 1867).
Writing to The Toronto Star from Newmarket on 9 June 2012, at the closing of the Diamond Jubilee Pageant, Dr. Robert Bahlieda observed – politely but firmly: “It is highly ironic that in the post-economic crash era of austerity, crisis and massive cuts to social programs around the globe, where the working public are told daily by their governments that we cannot afford social “entitlements” like pensions and healthcare, we are witness to the gratuitous and lavish excesses of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations in England celebrating the reign of Queen Elizabeth.
Without a pang of self-awareness, the British government is spending millions of pounds of taxpayer money that they assert they do not have on a nationwide party along with all other commonwealth countries around the globe. No expense has been spared to honour the Queen, who is in reality the pampered head of an anachronistic institution that has symbolised aristocratic elitism, oppression and privilege since its inception.
Throughout the history of the monarchy the ‘divine right of kings’ has always included the unlimited use of the public purse to fund the excesses and whims of successive rulers such as wars and the self-serving pageantry we are currently witnessing.
As the paying public we are only allowed to vicariously join in the celebrations of the royal family and offer adulation on this auspicious occasion lest we offend her royal majesty with disturbing questions about its value and relevance. However, what we should be doing is reflecting on the brutal history of the monarchy as an institution and asking tough questions about what we are honouring and why.
The English monarchy is an enduring symbol not of benign and passive rule but of authoritarianism, power and domination that has no place in modern society. Only a short time ago the British Empire was a feared world power that ruled its people and its subjects with ruthless impunity.
The aristocratic pomp and ceremony that media all over the world are currently celebrating without a single critical observation was created through armed force and the subordination of first the English public itself as well as a litany of unfortunate foreign peoples during the period of colonial and imperial expansion that created the British Empire and inflicted enormous cruelty and devastation on the indigenous people that England ‘discovered,’ including the First Nations peoples of North America, Australia and Africa to name only a few. The problems of our modern world are the legacy of the British monarchy.
Monarchists, media outlets and governments worldwide prefer to turn a blind eye to this appalling historical tradition and prefer instead to focus on the superficial entrapments of the modern royal family. Their ceremonial function cannot be justified, symbolically or economically, nor can the legacy of the monarchy be sugar coated.
Events such as the Diamond Jubilee celebrate a history of aristocratic rule and excess built on the backs of millions of conquered peoples who were subjugated and exploited all their lives for centuries to provide a privileged few to live in luxury.
The irony of this lavish overspending in the face of an apparently struggling English economy appears lost on the royal family, the British government and the British public themselves who unthinkingly perpetuate this checkered tradition.
However, as the Romans knew only too well, providing bread and circuses to keep the minds of the destitute populace off revolution was an effective poverty management strategy then as it is now. It is time the monarchy as a symbol and an institution exited the stage of history as an excess we can ill afford.” (Dr. Robert Bahlieda, ‘Pomp and circumstance or bread and circuses?’, The (Toronto) Star, 9 June 2012).
On the occasion of her outside appearances and visits the Queen is dressed in robes of gaudy, electronic, phantasmagoric colours, childish actually but skilfully designed to mesmerise the plebs – and never mind the infantilism; they make of Her Majesty the travelling centre of the Anglo universe. One witnesses the total solemnity, engagement and response of between Nuremberg and the Vatican (she is after all Fidei defensor = Defender of the Faith) and one partakes of an air between the Barnum Circle and a Hollywood musical: Brigadoon on Thames, perhaps?
What is not common knowledge, however, is that every time the Queen and/or her consort Philip travel abroad, a bill for travelling expenses is sent to the British Embassy or High Commission of the country that she and/or he happen to be visiting. This bill will include the price of the Queen’s outfits, of Prince Philip’s suits and ties and shirts, as well as of the clothes worn by their ladies-in-waiting, equerries, courtiers and courtesans. No ambassador and no high commissioner ever question the bills, which are often enormous. They are sent back to the Foreign Office in London and paid by the taxpayer. Since the Queen and Prince Philip have spent a substantial part of each year travelling, they could be said ‘to live on the expenses’. These vast sums never appear in any account of what the Royal Family costs the British taxpayer.
Looking at things from the other side of the world, one could say – perhaps not to politely but certainly more realistically – that the days before the arrival to Australia and during the visit of the Royal Couple in October 2011 one could have witnessed an organised outpouring of platitudes over the elderly monarch. ‘Ephemeral’ and even avowed ‘republicans’ had been eager to sing Her Majesty’s praises.
At a reception in her honour as Queen of Australia and Head of the Commonwealth held at Parliament House in Canberra on 21 October 2011, then Prime Minister Julia Gillard described the Queen as “a vital constitutional part of Australian democracy.” (‘Speech by Prime Minister Julia Gillard at reception for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II,’ Parliament House, Canberra – 21 October 2011, Office of the Prime Minister).
It is the kind of ‘constitutional tomfoolery’ – a miserable, provincial farce – which has been going on for decades, without visible abetment. It gives succour to the saying: Vulgus vult decipi, ergo decipiatur.= The masses want to be cheated, so let us cheat them – attributed to Petronius, Roman satirist, 27-66 c.e.
The monarchy still epitomises conservative – nay, reactionary – values and the status quo. It is a bastion against change, it is the living embodiment of a hierarchical society, reinforcing the notion that there is an established order: people should know their place and accept it. The monarchy is a ‘pyramid scheme’.
Britain’s peoples – and so too many Australians – are not citizens but subjects. They have been conditioned from birth to accept that there is only one form of government, and that is a ‘constitutional monarchy’ – like the British, of course.
The monarchy is an anachronism, totally out of step with life in the twenty-first century. It allows English brains – and the brains of those ‘British at large’ like ‘real Australians’ in a power position – to ‘take a break’. The grudging cynicism which is offered to politicians is revealed all the more tartly by the reverence which seems obligatory with the monarchy.
Continued Saturday – A conga line of bludgers: Prince Charles (part 1)
Previous instalment – A conga line of bludgers (part 1)
Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some seventy years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. He may be reached at George.firstname.lastname@example.org.
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