Matthew Norman: A Prince and his indulgent public

We seem to have outgrown the idea that royals are crucial to our sense of self-worth

Share
Related Topics

If the soon to be Lord Sugar swiftly tires of boldly going God knows where on the USS Enterprise, and should the Prime Minister wish to replace him with another gimmick-free Tsar, he could do a lot worse than the Prince of Wales.

Constitutionally this might raise the odd hackle. But desperate times and all that. The important point is that, for all his witterings about spirituality, aesthetics and ecology, the little observed but central thing about this Prince is that he is a brilliant businessman. His accounts leave no doubt about that.

Last year, Charles achieved the double whammy of substantially increasing his income while substantially reducing his income tax. How precisely he did so we will never know, because he is under no obligation to share even heavily redacted details, while his chief aide, Sir Michael Peat, says he has no intention of telling us. Yet the broad figures are with us, and splendid they are too.

While the Prince's Duchy of Cornwall income rose a little to almost £16.5m, his funding from Government grants soared by 20 per cent to just over £3m. His private expenditure fell, meanwhile, thanks to him foregoing the annual skiing holiday and Club 60-80 jolly among the rectangularly bearded Greek Orthodox priests of Mt Athos. Thanks to such heroic self-sacrifice, and the bizarre 10 per cent fall in his tax liability, he turned in a surplus of £2,175,000. And this during the worst global slump since his great uncle Edward was sucking up to the Fuhrer. A spectacular performance to put Little Lord Sugar to shame.

The intriguing point here isn't the intricate detail of how, for example, he can offset the cost of his butlers against income tax. The post of Comptroller of the Royal Specimen Jar must be filled, and if the Prince can persuade the Revenue it's a justifiable business expense, good luck to him. The fascinating thing is why almost nobody seems remotely umbraged. "A new expenses scandal?" asked the headline on The Independent's report, and the answer appears to be, "No, not really, no one gives a toss."

Not so long ago these accounts would have caused a Vesuvial eruption, with some molten fury synthesised by the Murdoch press but much genuine. And now? Well, the Daily Mirror ritually referred to the sparking of "outrage last night", but as the story hadn't broken on the last night in question, we'll take that with a jumbo tub of Saxa.

So perhaps this is the moment to mark, if not necessarily to mourn, the strange death of British republicanism, albeit that's an entity with tremendous powers of renaissance. Pistol-wielders took pot shots at Victoria during the widow's weeds era of her reign, but she was beloved again when she popped 'em.

Ever since, the tide of republicanism has flowed now and then, never more foamingly than a dozen years ago when the Queen took fright and left Balmoral to make her TV address about Diana. Then it fizzled out as quickly as it had exploded, with no lasting damage done, and that much quoted template for the apoplexy about non-royal expenses should comfort our marvellous MPs. That we are quick to anger and quicker still to relapse into apathy may just be the only strong strand of national identity that remains. That, and the monarchy itself.

The man who will inherit it, and the people he will nominally rule over, appear to have reached a happy accommodation. If he promises to stop affecting to care about us with all that faux-anguished drivel, and confines the petulant outbursts to areas as arcane to the average punter as Richard Rogers' architecture, we will no longer take any interest in him. While the Queen has become the object of veneration and deep fondness, if not exactly love, her first-born has ceased to matter at all.

This may partly be because we expect Her Maj to live as long as her mother, by which time Charles III and Camilla will be the first King and Queen (and she will be Queen) to be crowned on high-backed, wipe-clean plastic thrones, dribbling and muttering about how Countdown hasn't been the same since Richard Whiteley.

But more than that, surely, it's evidence of the very maturity that those few surviving republican voices insist is unattainable for those who are subjects rather than citizens. Whether one regards this institution as a faintly ridiculous anachronism or (as I do) the royal equivalent of Wagnerian opera – nice to know it's going on somewhere, so long as its barely audible in the background – we seem finally to have outgrown the notion that it is crucial to our sense of self-worth. And they have grown up too.

Needless to say, many of us miss the mirth. The one compelling argument for funding Charles and his sons while those Duchy biscuits and properties make such profits used to be the amusement that was provided for a few annual pence per capita. This sovereign duty they have abrogated shamefully.

In his apparent failure to fill the mistress vacancy created the day he married Camilla, Charles is a traitor to his family traditions and own form book. His sons have disappointed too. A few years ago, you'd have heavily backed Harry at even money to be plugging the gap in Jordan's life left by Peter Andre, but even he seems to be lapsing into precociously early middle age.

With his boys under control and his wife out of public view, the Prince trundles on, unembarrassed about taking £3m from an historically strained public purse while his own is swollen, and swapping private holidays for which he'd have to pay himself for public ones that look a bit like an MP's fact-finding mission to examine mango production methods on Barbados... ones like the recent jaunt by private jet to South America, with a retinue of 14, increasing his carbon footprint for a trip ostensibly concerned with climate change. And the reaction to this princely greed and majestic hypocrisy is weary indifference.

It seems that what Charles will inherit is an institution of sublime irrelevance, a kind of a Whaddever Monarchy. And that, in a country whose heraldic crest is the Shrugging Shoulder Rampant above the motto Meh, is exactly as it should be.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Front-End Developer C#, MVC, HTML5, CSS3

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A firm focused in building Insura...

C# Software Engineer (ASP.NET, C#, CSS, Java Script, JQuery)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits, Training & Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# S...

C# Swift Developer (ASP.NET, .NET, MVC, Authorize.NET, Swift)

£55000 - £65000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A Global Financial Service Organi...

Web Developer (Web Developer (C#, MVC, HTML5, CSS3, JavaScript)

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A firm focused in building Insura...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Next they'll say an independent Scotland can't use British clouds...

Mark Steel
 

Once I would have agreed with Dawkins. Then my daughter was born with Down's Syndrome

Jamie McCullum
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home