What is the point of a royal family in the modern era? - Jacob Farr

In some ways it is fitting that the Conservative government is proposing to build a new royal yacht to honour the late Duke of Edinburgh.

After all, the royal yacht, which will cost at least £190m, can act as the perfect gesture of remembrance for the Duke by spending a lot of money on an out of date symbol that allows one to pretend one still rules the waves and the world.

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When I first saw the idea being touted by staunch Tory MPs I thought it was a work of satire, but one should never underestimate the ability of the British government to squander tax payers’ money on acts of national vanity.

The Imperial State Crown, driven down The Mall in a Rolls Royce Phantom VI, en route to the Houses of Parliament for the State Opening of Parliament on May 11, 2021. Picture: Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images.

And it will be to no one’s surprise that the politician who backed a disastrous multi-million pound project for a garden bridge in London has thrown his support behind the idea with much enthusiasm.

Who knows? Maybe David Gauke in The Spectator is correct in saying that the PM has chosen tactically to back the plan as a nod to the Queen that the country is with her, or to annoy the right kind of people on the left by siding with a military/monarchist project.

But what is truly mind boggling is the idea that the new royal yacht will be used to help bag bargain trade deals for the UK.

Do senior government sources genuinely believe a pretty boat rocking up on the shores of Shanghai will somehow encourage potential clients to pursue trade deals with a new “open United Kingdom”?

I mean, you can almost picture the scene as the yacht anchors in a former British colony, locals rushing down to the shores in unbridled excitement, the trepidation too much for some as they bask in a symbol of a monarch and foreign state that pillaged their country not so long ago.

Of course this is all nonsense.

For anyone who followed Brexit, they will understand that trade negotiations and deals are extremely complex affairs that are unlikely to be swayed by a bit of pageantry.

The importance of pageantry and grandeur is slowly but surely eroding away. We are no longer negotiating empire to empire, or monarch to monarch, as there are skilled diplomats and technical advisors who care more for the details of a deal than whether they are sitting on an exuberant ship as they sign it.

And all of this really makes you ask the question - what is the point of a royal family in the modern era?

I believe the true test of a fair society is one where you can turn to a child and say they can be whatever they want to be so long as they earn it.

Now, of course, this sentiment isn’t completely true in a capitalist western democracy that is still hung up on all of the trappings of aristocracy. But there is a semblance that someone from a predominantly working class background can attain a higher status in life through their own ability.

Although in the UK there is one major institution that makes the above notion laughable - the monarchy.

The very existence of a royal family and head of state chosen by the blood that courses through its veins is a reminder that we do not live in a meritocracy but instead a synthetic fair society.

Our monarch today is one that has not evolved, it has been unable to become a symbolic role and has failed to gain the respect of those sceptical of the institution by assimilating into normal life like that of the Netherlands.

Earlier this year, the Guardian revealed the monarch has been heavily involved in influencing various legislation.

It is evident to anyone who cares to open their eyes that the Crown estate often gives its opinion on laws that impact the monarch. Great examples of this can be found when the Crown applied pressure for exemptions to traffic regulations and laws that would hamper its ability to abuse tenants on the vast swathes of land it owns.

Of course, many will argue that the Queen and her extended family do a great deal to represent the country and our interests as well as being an important source of income for the treasury.

But if we are honest with ourselves we know that European countries like France and the Czech Republic still welcome masses of tourists each year to visit their palaces that were formerly inhabited by distant relations to our queen.

Several republicans will also raise the issue that the Queen’s vast wealth has been secured through the plunder of not just foreign lands but also domestic. As a family, the monarchy owns an obscene amount of land and property that would be put to much better use if it were in the hands of the citizens it belongs to.

All being said, the Crown is allegedly unhappy at the proposal for a new royal yacht, as it sees it as dragging the Crown into choppy waters, potentially harming its publicity.

And to be fair, it is right as the Windsor brand is suffering.

The royal yacht will start a conversation about the need for a monarchy and may bring about undesirable answers for the royals in a country where millions of children go to bed hungry, an NHS is on the brink of collapse and many people would have to auction off a crown jewel to be able to get on the property ladder.

Although, as a country it must be accepted we are obsessed with the monarchy. We see the ideals of a fair society as being a price worth paying to watch what is in essence a diamond encrusted reality TV show, so I do not believe its status will be under threat, even though it should be.

At least the next season will have a boat.

Jacob Farr is a reporter with The Scotsman/Edinburgh Evening News

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