Royal train joins palaces as target for the reformers

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The Independent Online
Last week they were planning the takeover of the royal palaces. This week the reformers have a new target: the royal train.

The train, which has cost pounds 67,000 for each of its last 183 journeys, is the latest casualty of the monarchy's struggle to slim itself down. This month a former Buckingham Palace official, Simon Gimson, admitted that "there may be decisions" on the future of the train - one of the Queen's favourite luxuries. Now senior courtiers say that it is doomed on grounds of cost.

The news follows last week's row, now being referred to as the battle of the palaces. Reports (including one in this newspaper) that the Queen is likely to move from Buckingham Palace to make way for a display of the Royal art collection emerged as others suggested that minor royals may be removed from Kensington Palace to accommodate the art and a memorial to Diana, Princess of Wales.

The confusion reflects the decision-making process. For one thing there is no single person in charge. For another, those involved are practised in the age-old arts of court politics. As one source put it: "Courtiers inevitably behave like courtiers. People in courts always jockey for position. They always promote their own views."

So what is actually happening behind the scenes? The modernisation process already under way was stepped up after the death of Diana. Formally it is being conducted by the Way Ahead group, made up of the senior members of the Royal Household headed by the Queen, who must decide on changes.

But this is a blunt instrument. Prince Philip is a legendary conservative while, as one source put it, Prince Andrew's interests lie rather less with the strategic positioning of the royal family "than in the routeing of royal helicopter flightpaths".

The spadework is being done by a committee, technically chaired by Lord Airlie, the Lord Chamberlain, with Sir Robert Fellowes, the Queen's private secretary, also prominent. Other influential officials include Robin Janvrin, the Queen's deputy private secretary, Stephen Lamport, Prince Charles's deputy private secretary, Mary Francis, a former Treasury private secretary and now assistant private secretary to the Queen, and Mark Bolland, deputy private secretary to the Prince of Wales.

Their proposals, originally expected in the new year, are now predicted for Easter. The reform process is complicated by the fact that the committee drawing up recommendations will influence, but not decide, outcomes. Ultimately, the Queen, Prince Charles and Prince Philip will have to agree. The result is that factions have a licence to promote their own agendas.

The most contentious issue is that of the palaces. Most prominent among those in favour of a move from Buckingham Palace are Prince Charles, backed by his aides. There is also thought to be some government support for the move. Ministers are highly cautious about their advice to royalty. But Prince Charles has key government allies in Peter Mandelson, Minister without Portfolio, and Chris Smith, Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport. Mr Smith has initiated moves to try to have more of the royal art collection on show.

There are sound reasons why Buckingham Palace would be an easier venue for displaying the collection than Kensington Palace. The most obvious is the number of occupants: Princess Margaret, Princess Alice (less than three years off her 100th birthday), the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, the Duke and Duchess of Kent and Princess Michael of Kent. There was "mild hysteria" last week at suggestions that they would be evicted. While state rooms could be used to display the royal collection,"you couldn't," as another source put it, "convert Diana's old apartment into a gallery. It wouldn't be appropriate."

None of these arguments weighs heavily with Prince Philip or the Buckingham Palace establishment. They divide into"minimalists" such as Prince Philip, who feel little change is necessary, and cautious reformers.

With a staff of about 850 based in the palace there is more than a little to lose for those who work in London's most prestigious address. Opponents of a move include Sir Robert Fellowes and Lord Airlie. From the cautious reformers comes backing for the less radical Kensington Palace option. This may include Mr Janvrin, who is more of a reformer than Sir Robert, backing change of some sort - although he might ultimately favour the Buckingham Palace option as a Millennium gesture.

Pinpointing individual positions is, however, complicated because, in the time-honoured tradition of the courtier, officials tend to say very different things to different people. The outcome remains in the balance because the Royal Family has yet to decide whether to pre-empt future criticism through radical reform, or to adopt its traditional cautious approach. Meanwhile its deliberations are producing not only leaks but more than a little frustration; as one source put it with understatement: "These are not people used to bringing about a change of culture." Apparently, the Queen is not amused.