A spinmeister in the Royal Household announces that the Queen "costs" each of us just 53 pence a year, so why do I begrudge this hard-working pensioner a 5 per cent pay rise? For less than the cost of a large can of baked beans we've got a beautifully turned-out woman luring millions of tourists to theme park UK, a figurehead who is consistent, reliable and discreet. Sadly, like a high-performance car, she costs a disgraceful amount of money to keep roadworthy.
This increase in funds means the Queen's annual income will rise to £37.9m a year. The money comes from her huge property portfolio, the profits of which go to the Treasury, and under a new agreement, the monarch is allowed to keep 15 per cent, and she's likely to receive even more money next year. Most of us are now worse off than three years ago, and many are not able to work the hours they want as part-time working increases. I am singularly unimpressed the Queen has made economies in her many palaces: she's paying her 436 staff rises of up to 5 per cent, a total of £18.5m. Worse, taxpayers are paying £1.1m to fix the roof and remodel the interior of William and Kate's Kensington Palace residence, with its garden, three main bedrooms, five reception rooms, dressing rooms and bathrooms, nine staff bedrooms and more than 20 other rooms.
The Duke and Duchess might be paying for curtains and interior furnishings, but why can't the Queen stop using Buckingham Palace as well as Windsor, and cut her costs, like many of her subjects? Why can't William and Kate share a property with other members of the Royal family and reduce security costs? Is Kate's baby going to bring in so much trade, tourism and new business to Britain that we can justify such a lavish home?
While the Queen gets a rise, we pay more tax. The number of higher-rate taxpayers has grown from 3 million to 3.8 million and an economic think-tank, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, says that two million more will be paying the higher rate by 2015-16, if the Government persists with it's deficit reduction strategy. Originally, the Government planned to achieve 80 per cent of its savings with spending cuts and 20 per cent with tax cuts, but now the think-tank reckons far fewer people will benefit from a reduction in tax, something the Treasury denies.
The Queen seems out of step with her subjects. The Royal Family should lead by example: handing back Buckingham Palace, getting rid of the Royal Train and cancelling foreign trips could be a start.
A star turn
I was very sorry to hear of the death at 66 of Mark Fisher, who was in my year when I studied at the Architectural Association back in 1965. Mark trained as an architect and then went on to revolutionise the staging of live music, working with most of the major artists of the past 40 years, from Madonna and Lady Gaga to U2, the Rolling Stones, Elton John and Queen. When Pink Floyd staged a one-off concert on the site of the Berlin Wall in 1990, Mark built the biggest set ever – a huge wall of 5,500 white bricks, costing $16m – and blew it up at the end.
Mark worked on the Millennium Dome show in 1999, and was executive producer for the London Olympics and Paralympics ceremonies. In person, he was the opposite to his work, which was astonishingly brash and outrageous – quietly spoken, a man of few words. I hope that Glastonbury honours him with a minute's silence – because Mark made sure that every performer he worked with would remain printed indelibly on our memories. In his hands, a live event was an electric experience.
In a previous life, David Cameron was a PR man and presumably understands the importance of presentation, so what perverse impulse caused him to appoint the hapless Nick Boles Minister for Planning? Boles says it's OK to build on green fields, because some of them aren't that "interesting". He thinks concreting over the countryside is essential if we are to meet housing targets, and unless villages agree to development they will become "fossilised". He has replaced Andrew Lansley as the minister most likely to enrage voters.
Last week, Mr Boles was on top form, addressing the annual meeting of the Campaign to Protect Rural England. Provocatively, he said: "When I was on a council I did everything I possibly could to avoid going anywhere near planning!" A member of the audience shouted "The man's a fool" and when someone else commented he was being "simplistic" Boles lost his temper and complained about people "putting all their money into houses" … a bit rich coming from a Member of Parliament whose fellow-workers routinely buy second homes and claim tax relief on their mortgages.
I have this bizarre vision of Boles sending civil servants from his department with their iPhones to photograph fields all over England and rank them according to their beauty, so he can decide whether they are suitable for housing. According to Boles, villages need "noise and bustle". Bilge. What villages need before anything else is a reliable rural transport system, otherwise no young families will ever be able to live in the countryside. Near my home in Yorkshire, all the young families leave, because when kids become teenagers, ferrying them to colleges and secondary schools 10 or 15 miles away is impossible. How much longer can Boles survive?
Last week ITV hosted a summer party in Westminster, and I introduced myself to Eric Pickles. He didn't seem to be enjoying the cabaret presented by a couple of finalists from Britain's Got Talent, who sang "Somewhere" from West Side Story. I could feel buttocks clenching on all sides, and several MPs were suddenly called outside the marquee on urgent business.
Former sandwich-makers Richard and Adam Johnson have fabulous voices, but this was a tougher audience than David Walliams and co. At least the Johnsons have the talent to entertain, something our Chancellor seems to lack. In a pathetic bid to appear human last week, he posted a picture of himself eating a hamburger on Twitter. I would rather watch paint dry than look at a pasty-faced geezer in an ugly white shirt eating a Byron burger. To prove the Tories like a joke, Mr Pickles posted a picture of himself eating a salad and carrot sticks. Sadly, a prankster soon inserted a bucket of fried chicken.
All this would be harmless if I didn't suspect that aides are being tasked with devising photos for Twitter feeds, when they could be doing something useful like coming up with deliverable policies. Osborne's stunt couldn't distract me from the hard truth that households have just experienced the biggest drop in disposable income since 1987 and the cost of living has risen by 25 per cent since the recession began in 2008. Not many voters can afford a luxury burger.