Pictures of Kate Middleton appear daily on the front pages. Last week, she showcased clothes costing £12,000. Didn't she look lovely? She smiled and waved too – such an exhausting job, who would want it? All the aspirational young women lining up to apply to St Andrews where Katie bagged her prince. The university is about to team up with the elite American William and Mary College in Virginia (note the monarchist moniker) to charge £18,000 a year for a joint BA degree. Perhaps the next Mrs Simpson will also come from there – rich North Americans love aristocratic connections and all things royal. And this summer they are in for the biggest treat.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (what do these titles mean? Is a duke higher than a prince? Who bloody cares?) are preparing to visit Canada and the US for their first official overseas tour starting 30 June. Expect a flood of images, nauseating sycophancy, endless smiles and airhead fashionista commentaries. The entourage will be "humble", say loyal watchers, with only seven adults accompanying the couple. So no lackey to put toothpaste on to a toothbrush, something Prince Charles must have. More modest still, no dresser or Lady in Waiting. And the people are lapping it all up, like hungry cats round a cream bowl. The downturn? Economic hard times? Cuts and public sector strikes? All the people need are the diverting accounts of the undeserving rich to get by. Only the really curmudgeonly or perfidious Commies would say otherwise. Those of us who can't stand the circus are made to feel treacherous outsiders – a cold place to be.
After the euphoria of the wedding, the phenomenal success of The King's Speech, the honeyed tributes to rude Prince Philip on his 90th birthday, I feel almost defeated. We republicans are losing the battle. There were moments when it seemed as if the nation was shaking, shuddering with righteous indignation at appalling royal behaviour. That fever went down, and we are back to the status quo.
In our flawed democracy, some are born to lord it over us, even if they are stupid, unattractive (in all senses), immoral, badly behaved, drunk, spoilt, adulterous, callous and irresponsible. Examples can be provided for all of these within the present lot of royals. Going back, the list would get more colourful still, with a long line of serious miscreants and corrupt blue-bloods. The point though is that even if they are perfect, they were handed status and wealth at birth and that is wrong. This Queen certainly deserves respect for her diplomacy and for embodying the transition from the British Empire to post-colonial nationhood. But she heads a morally indefensible institution and can't see the harm that does. This year, just after it was revealed that Prince Andrew, the wastrel "helicopter prince", was flying around doing deals with dodgy dictators, his mum stuck more medals on him and later on their irascible dad too, just a birthday present.
But, alas this country's not for turning. A cunningly managed restoration of popularity has ensured the future of the monarchy. Charles will be King; then William. Kate, the millionaires' daughter, will beget an heir and they will live happily ever after. And the people will happily pay for them. There is never going to be a royals expenses row. They are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, though they cost us millions, including their tax-free allowances and gargantuan security costs. It still isn't enough. In 2010, the Queen tried to get money for palace repairs from a state fund set aside for energy-saving changes to homes and hospitals. "Relative poverty" took on a whole new meaning then, as does the "relative" frugality of the coming Canadian trip.
Defenders of the family say their palaces attract tourists. In India after independence, they got rid of their Maharajahs and Maharanis but retained the opulent residences. Tell me the country gets fewer tourists because they don't have real royals any more. And anyway, only a small part of our tourism industry (one fifth) comes from overseas visitors – the sector as a whole makes up about 9 per cent of GDP. Legoland in Windsor has more visitors by far than Windsor castle. Supporters also exaggerate the effectiveness of British royals. The Queen's remarkable visit to Ireland, her undoubted dignity and moving speech, are given as an example. Was the Irish President Mary McAleese any less dignified or impressive? If they believe that, the national self-delusion is now untreatable.
One Quebec legislator, Amir Khadir, denounced the visit of the "parasites" and the Canadian premier quickly intervened, affirming that his people hold the couple "in very great esteem". That esteem should come only when the couple show they understand what so many of their people are going through. Britain is barely recovering from economic depths it reached last year. More than 100,000 disabled children will no longer receive extra money to help them cope; many families are already living below the poverty line and more will join them as new rules are passed. Kate, meanwhile, wears a gown costing nearly £5,000 to raise money for charity. A fat donation without the costly extravaganza would have done more good and appeared less self-serving.
Why aren't people more angry? They were with expense-claiming MPs who do long hours and put themselves up for tortuous elections. Even in Swaziland, where the King and his many wives rule absolutely, the women of the nation came out in 2008 to demonstrate against the outrageous royal lifestyles. Think about that.
The furious brigade will send off missives about how I have no right to criticise "their" Queen. Let them remember she was my Queen when I was born under the imperial sun. Previously her ancestors declared themselves rulers in India and elsewhere, without popular consent. Here, though, most of the people consent to the most blatant symbol of inequality and celebrate it. Kate has given them more reason and the jubilee next year gives them another boost.
Republicanism may well come to Swaziland one day. But not here. Not ever. Game, set and match to the wasteful Windsors.
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