After this momentous year, the British monarchy is in need of radical reform

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A hobbling Queen with a battered consort was not the most glorious image with which to define the state of the British monarchy at the end of 2002. This jubilee year may not have been the annus horribilis of 1992, but it has had its very distinct ups and downs, and the accident of the calendar inevitably meant that it was the downs of the last couple of months rather than the ups of the jubilee celebrations in the summer that remained in the memory.

A hobbling Queen with a battered consort was not the most glorious image with which to define the state of the British monarchy at the end of 2002. This jubilee year may not have been the annus horribilis of 1992, but it has had its very distinct ups and downs, and the accident of the calendar inevitably meant that it was the downs of the last couple of months rather than the ups of the jubilee celebrations in the summer that remained in the memory.

In view of this, it was disappointing that for all the genuinely poignant references in her Christmas broadcast to her personal losses – the deaths in a matter of months of her sister, Princess Margaret, and the Queen Mother – the Queen alluded only fleetingly to the "downs" of the royal year and failed utterly to address one glaring reality. Although the public embrace of the jubilee, like the response to the death of the Queen Mother, showed a Britain still strongly attached to the institution of the monarchy and respectfully admiring of the Queen herself, both she and the Palace proved incapable of capitalising on this public mood.

Worse, they managed to squander much of the goodwill generated during the high summer of national pageantry. There was the revelation that the Prince of Wales habitually wrote to ministers, which suggested a readiness to exert influence on matters of state. There was the ever present, never formalised figure of Camilla Parker-Bowles. And then there were the abandoned trials of the two royal butlers, and all the tawdry revelations that emerged amid the legal chaos.

The trial of Paul Burrell revived the cross-currents of resentment that had tainted the aftermath of Princess Diana's death, casting her, and members of the Royal Family, in a highly negative light. The personal intervention of the Queen, whose sudden memory recall halted the trial in its tracks, raised questions about the place of the Crown in the judicial process. It was the first time that the tide of royal scandal had lapped at the feet of the monarch herself; it also prompted speculation not just about what this butler, and others, might have known, but about the power that their knowledge gave them.

As if all this was not damaging enough, the details of present-giving, present-taking and present-selling that came to light during the trial of Paul Burrell created the impression of a royal household that was, if not corruptible, then seriously on the make – attached, it could be said, to a "freebie culture". Until this point, the public had tended to regard royal servants as a special caste whose singular loyalty and discretion had their reward not in money, but in status. The discounts available to them at certain shops and the selling-on of official gifts given, it appeared, in good faith to members of the Royal Family gave the lie to the royal household's image of impecunious decency. It also threatened to bring the taxpayers' funding of the Civil List into contention again.

In the days before yesterday's royal broadcast, the Palace tried hard to tweak public interest, citing a sharp decline in audience figures over the years. This led us to hope that the Queen might contrast the unexpected triumph of her jubilee with the discredited fustiness of Palace practice and announce much-needed radical reform. That is what we had hoped for; alas, we were wrong.

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