Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: A bunch of mediocre wastrels

The practice is wrong, and the principle is wrong. It binds the British people and their institutions into dependency and voluntary subservience

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That lovely Prince William, our modern chevalier, is in north Wales on a three-year helicopter pilot course with the RAF. Thankfully he will be fully trained to fly a Chinook the next time he goes to a stag night. Remember that caper in 2008? When he swooped up young Harry in one of those helicopters (cost £35m, and in short supply in Afghanistan) and went off to party, two spoilt men in their magnificent machine? Then he couldn't be arsed to go by road in a speedy car; now he can't be arsed to stay at the army base and wants to live nearby in a cottage with his beloved. Fine, it's his private life. Except it will cost taxpayers £1.4m, because the love nest will need 15 full-time police officers in addition to the Scotland Yard men who guard him. How sweet is that? In this recession who would mind paying for this love story?

Goodness knows how much extra was spent when Prince Charles dropped in on Glastonbury – Oh blessed crowds! Oh the ecstasy at the sight of that crabby face! After Bowie, Springsteen and Jay-Z on came the Prince, wearing a Mercian Regiment tie. Festival founder Michael Eavis was duly obsequious and will be knighted for getting counter culture on its knees. Do they really believe he is a lionheart of exalted lineage whose blood is sapphire?

Must do – even intellectuals and artists, whose bright brains and creative impulses fall supplicant before the dodgiest of royals. At the Bafta awards, the incomparable actress and activist Vanessa Redgrave got down to the floor in front of boy William, extravagantly praising Charles for his contribution to film. What contributions? William Shawcross's hagiography on the Queen Mother is on the bestseller list. The Duchess of Cornwall was the guest of honour at the Orange Prize this year, for reasons many in the room could not fathom. An Indian journalist whispered to me: "We got rid of our obscene kings and queens, you still hang on to yours. How does that make you more modern than us? This woman is a mistress who plotted to bring in a virgin for her man so his line could carry on. Do you curtsey in front of her? How embarrassing."

For her and me to express anti-monarchy views is a crime against nationality. Black and Asian Britons are expected to be loyal to the Crown. Many are. Dissenters have to peg their noses. Racism alloyed with royalism makes a very stinky stench. I was on the BBC's Daily Politics show recently, debating our monarchist system with Lord Digby Jones. Internet stalkers were mad that I was a republican, madder still that I dare to criticise the royals – me, a "bloody coolie", as one described me. This column will bring them out again. Sometimes you do pity the fools in their own Never Neverland.

The palace accounts gave us the grubby reality: though total expenditure is down, this clan costs us over £100m. Charles's entertainment expenses were reduced (they are giving less to commoners), but staff costs are higher. Another flunkey to squeeze the toothpaste of His Royal Highness's squeeze? A shoe and jewel polisher – as the Duchess has so many of both? Sir Michael Peat, His Master's Voice, comes up with the brill answer: "We employ people rather than put them on the dole." Should the owner of 54,424 hectares of prime land pay more from his own pocket? Perhaps give up some residences, the soulful green Prince? A palace insider responds to such questions with awesome condescension: "I suppose we could get the Prince and Duchess to eat one fewer meal a day".

They have been clever, no doubt. The ad guru Tim Delaney said in 2002: "The Windsors are one of the best run brands... there's no argument or debate about the best way to run the country. It's just the divine right of kings and queens turned into brand management. Windsor happens to be a brand. It's no different from a Mars Bar...[yet] all kinds of moral issues are dispatched by them, and why should we listen? The idea of kings and queens is based on superstition and power through subjugation." Unlike a Mars Bar, we do not have the choice to buy into them. The dysfunctional royal family expects the people to pay up.

The practice is wrong, the principle is wrong; it locks British people and institutions into dependency and voluntary subservience. The profligate, right-wing Queen Mother, the allegedly alcoholic and promiscuous Princess Margaret, the ghastly Prince Philip, the brace of kept princes, arrogant Princess Anne and the rest of the gang would not get a job on the buses with their skills and personalities. Their birthright props them up – only that. They exist so that we may cringe and defer, and vicariously delight in their unearned privilege. The great socialist journalist Mervyn Jones, who died this February, was absolutely right when he wrote: "No one who believes either in the claims of merit or the pursuit of equality can defend the system." The unshakeable pyramid would crack and fall unless the lower classes stay fixed and rapt and infantilised. Are we human or are we vassals?



Republicans always get panicked Britons asking incredulously if we really do think a president would be better than the Queen. She has taken the nation through the Empire and its aftermath and should carry on until the end. But after that, this obsolete institution must give way to democracy and modernity. Give the royals reasonable incomes and let them go. Let us elect our figureheads – David Attenborough, Camilla Batmanghelidjh, Joanna Lumley, even David Starkey would be better than this lot. And if they failed to impress, we could vote them out.

Incredibly, until 2003, when the Law Lords ruled otherwise, it was unlawful to argue publicly for a republic. It isn't easy even now. Today's more deranged monarchists would perhaps like republicans flogged for their views in Trafalgar Square, with the Queen's Household Cavalry standing to attention and a drummer (a bright idea to send to the listening coalition Government?) You'd think we were a greater menace to society than avaricious bankers and unrepressed "paedos". Next week the Republican movement holds its summer party. Thousands will not turn up – if only they did. But the cause is just and essential, and change will surely come. Not in my lifetime though – that much I know.

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

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