Firstly, they don’t make it easy. Since the Windsors play a huge role in our so-called democratic process, hold enormous influence and power, and derive their wealth from us, the people, we damn well have a right to know how much wealth they in fact hoard. An investigative journalist called David McClure trying to find out this simple matter found himself stonewalled at every point. Most classified documents are closed for 20 years before they’re open to public access. McClure couldn’t even access documents related to the Royal financial agreement with the government from 1952 – it’s under lock and key for a full century. McClure found that many private assets have not been inventoried, which means, conveniently, that their value cannot be estimated accurately. Furthermore, though all wills are legally required to be available for public inspection as a safeguard against fraud, those of the Royal family remain sealed.
Thus those investigating the Royal family have a choice: be critical and frozen out, barred from access to anything under their control. Or take a knee, figuratively, bow to the sovereign, and be allowed controlled access to what they’re happy for the public to know.
Forbes somehow estimates the Queen’s net worth at roughly £420M (in 2017), which doesn’t include the £12bn Crown Estate. She also owns one of the world’s largest stamp collections, inherited from her grandfather. Forbes somehow estimated her private collections of antique furniture and jewellery at £84M.
The Crown Estate is one of the largest property owners in Britain with holdings of £12bn in 2016. It is not the Queen’s personal property, it is owned by the Crown, a corporation representing the legal embodiment of the state. The family still get 15% of the profits and that can go up on a parliamentary whim. It also owns colonial property in Ireland, Windsor Great Park, and Ascot Racecourse. The Estate is mostly nondescript residential property (much of Regent Street and St James’s, for example), commercial offices (including half of all office space in the West End), and retail parks (at least 17). And it brings in £300M+ profits a year.
The Royal Collection is one of the largest and most valuable art collections in the world, with over 7,000 paintings, 40,000 watercolours and drawings, 150,000 old master prints, antique furniture, ceramics, books, gold and silver plate, armour, jewellery (including the Crown Jewels) and tapestries. It is held in trust among the 13 Royal residences (and why does anyone need 13 residences, by the way?). The Treasury states the collection is ‘vested in the sovereign and cannot be alienated’. They receive huge amounts of money intended for the upkeep of the Royal estate, yet over a third of it has fallen into disrepair. What the hell are they doing with all this money? Moreover, the Royal Collection draws an income of £4.5M a year from tourists on top of £6M from events organised at the palaces.
In addition, the Queen owns the Duchy of Lancaster, over 45,000 acres, mostly in the north of England, while Prince Charles owns the Duchy of Cornwall, which includes London’s Oval cricket ground and the Isles of Scilly, over 50,000 acres spread across 23 counties (so not just Cornwall). All profits from these gigantic holdings go directly to their owners, the Queen and Prince Charles. Residents of duchies owned by Elizabeth and Charles who die without a will automatically have their assets confiscated by the Queen and her son. Not a bad little earner for them. The monarchy accumulate the average UK salary by 00.43 on the 1st of January.
The Queen and Prince Charles are exempt from paying taxes. They began volunteering to pay some tax when their popularity was ebbing and it was a damage limitation PR stunt. It didn’t make much difference because their state funding increased – so whatever they gave back was ‘refunded’ in a sense, given with one hand and taken back with the other. In any case the Queen only pays tax on her personal income. That doesn’t include the Crown Estate or Royal palaces (though it does include Balmoral and Sandringham).
Even so, they use tax havens for other of their investments. This was uncovered in the Paradise Papers investigation: the Queen had millions invested in the Cayman Islands. She has investments in Threshers the off-licence, BrightHouse, which has been found to target people with learning disabilities and exploit poor families (it was ordered to pay almost £15M in compensation to approximately a quarter of a million customers), and weapons companies like BAE Systems, and Lonmin (formerly the London and Rhodesian Mining Company).
The taxpayer pays to keep the Royals in ermine and for upkeep of their vast estates. We pay for Buckingham Palace’s 400 members of staff, some of whom are kept on zero hours contracts. Meanwhile some of the poorest people in the country have been forced into smaller accommodation or pay penalties on spare rooms, the Queen can still swan around Buckingham Palace’s 52 bedrooms. In order to refurbish one of the Royal family’s official residences, Buckingham Palace, the government raised the Sovereign Grant temporarily from 15% to 25%. This is like if Westminster needed funds for refurbishment and MPs salaries were temporarily doubled while they paid for it. Weird. Only the SNP objected to this debacle. If we’re paying for it, then we should benefit from it – it should be in public ownership.
It’s not as if they treat their funding with anything resembling respect. Money is squandered in the only way Royals know how: with carefree abandon. The Queen lavishes fillet steak cooked by a chef on her corgis, who are delivered their food on a silver platter by a footman. Charles once allegedly took a train to visit a particular pub, costing almost £20k, and almost £15k on a round trip to see the golf at Muirfield for his brother, the Duke of York. The Royal wedding (Harry and Meghan) was estimated to have cost £24M in security and road closures. Charles himself has a staff of 120, including 3 footmen who escort visitors to his office ‘each responsible for a short segment of corridor’, and 4 valets to help him get dressed, while Kate Middleton’s spending habits were dubbed ‘disgusting’ by her own MP.
The other Royals that aren’t tax exempt, like Prince Andrew, also begrudge giving up a penny of their unearned wealth. It was exposed in 2011 that he used tax avoidance schemes to withhold millions in taxes. Andrew also requested that his daughters be funded by the taxpayer.
The Royal sense of entitlement knows no bounds. Not only are they already disgustingly rich through no sweat of their own, not only are they already swimming in public funding for their lavish, pampered lifestyles, but they even demand more. The Queen cast her greedy, covetous eyes upon a government pot of money that is ordinarily put aside for the needy – those suffering energy poverty. Elizabeth has such intense contempt for the poor that she believed her own filthy rich family deserved a handout of £1M to heat the many empty rooms of Buckingham Palace rather than people in mortal danger for lack of heating. We’re talking about hospitals, schools, and housing associations. The elderly die at a rate of 1 every 7 minutes in the winter due to energy poverty. Many face a stark choice between eating and heating, and some face the prospect of starving or freezing to death. Imagine thinking a billionaire is more deserving of that fund?
Value for money
According to one study, the Royal ‘brand’ is valued at £67.5bn – if it were a business it would be the 4th biggest in the world, below Google, Amazon and Microsoft (Who knows how they came up with this figure). Monarchists argue that The Crown Estates bring in revenues to the Treasury (over £200M) and the Queen only gets a percentage of that. So, it’s good value for money. This stems from a deal made between monarchy and parliament in 1760, when parliament took over financial responsibility for civil government. This is an absurd justification: they’re saying £30-odd million (however much it is in a given year) is better than over £200M, as if the Queen would otherwise be entitled to the whole lot. But it’s the opposite way round: the Queen is entitled to sweet FA. She is entitled to squat. Zilch.
The other trick they try pulling is to work out their value for money by dividing a fraction of the real cost by the full population (rather than by the total amount of taxpayers, 29,9 not 64.1 million) – 56p a year per subject. It’s still 56p too much, but this is a deliberate attempt to trivialise the cost and frame it individually: it costs you personally 56p, what’s the big deal? At least a tenner would be closer to the real cost, but even then, a tenner a year? What are you even grumbling about? But the cost isn’t a tenner, it’s well over £300M, and we don’t just bear the cost individually but collectively, as a society that £300M goes a long way – for example, it could pay for 15,000 teachers or firefighters who could have a huge, positive impact on society.
In the final analysis, it wouldn’t justify a monarchy no matter how ‘cost effective’ they were – the institution is an outrage of feudal contempt for the people and a mockery of democracy. But, the fact is the Windsors are deeply embedded in the imperialist-capitalist system and their vast wealth is directly linked to the vast inequalities and poverty not just in our own society, but across the world. It’s time to take it all away from them.