En-me-barage-si of Kish is a name that won’t mean much to anyone. However this is the name of the first ever known “king”, dating bawn by the name “Bretwalda”, the Anglo-Saxon for “ruler of the British.” But these monarchs were back in the days before democracies, when Royals led the country from the front and made decisions on their country’s politics. As one of very few left, the UK acts as perhaps one of the best examples of a modern day, western monarchy. But today’s royals are seen as nothing more than a set of figureheads, no longer in charge of a third of the world. Even the UK royal family website states, “The Sovereign no longer has a political or executive role.” However they must have their uses, or else there wouldn’t be a need to maintain them. So the question is, is there any point in keeping them?
The Royal family would not still be around if they were entirely pointless, and it would be unfair to say that they do not have their uses. One of the major arguments used for maintaining the monarchy is that their presence boosts tourism towards the UK, which has the benefit of more money being spent in the UK. According to a report by Brand Finance, the royals supposedly bring in an extra £550 million a year for tourism. However we have to question how much of this is truly due to the presence of the royals, or whether this boost in tourism is due to buildings, sites or locations that are linked to the royals. The queen only spends 6 months living in Buckingham palace, yet tourists are more than happy to continue to visit the palace, whether or not the queen is residing there at that point. This is similar to other historic sites; despite places such as Edinburgh castle not actually being used as a defensive building, just under 2 million people still go and visit it each year. The idea of it being the royals themselves who bring the money in is questionable.
There is further financial debate surrounding the royal family, regarding how much they cost the taxpayer each year. The sovereign grant, a sum paid by the UK government to the royal family to cover their costs, totalled at £45.6 million pounds last year. A small sum in comparison to the billions spent on other areas by the government, however a huge amount for the costs of just one family. Yet the sovereign grant is not the only drain on taxpayers, with some estimates for the cost of the royals climbing to nearly £340 million. These figures include security bills which are picked up by the metropolitan police, and the price of visits to local areas, which is picked up by local councils. How justifiable the expenditure is is debatable whilst the government continues its policy of austerity.
However, it would be unfair to ignore the fact of the crown estates, set up in 2016. This is a set of estates, including most of Regent Street in London and the entire UK foreshore, which gives any profits to the UK government. Last year these profits spanned £328m clearly covering the sovereign grant. However it is still £12m under some of the estimates for the true cost of the royal family. These are small figures for a country, however with families struggling to put food on the table, you wonder whether the money is being spent in the right areas. Furthermore, if the royals were to disappear, it would be unlikely that the crown estates would cease to provide money for the UK government. Thus it is questionable as to whether the royal family is still needed.
On the other hand, we can see that having a head of state separate from politics can be useful. Despite maintaining no real political power in day to day affairs, the queen still maintains the ability to veto any bill that should try to pass through parliament. The queen would rarely use this right, out of respect for democracy, almost ironically. However such power comes in useful in times of utter terror. Should a serious issue break out, or an unpopular decision be taken through, the queen can prevent it. Although it is highly unlikely that any such case should come up, it is somewhat reassuring to know that there is one more line of defense, which is completely separate from politics.
In addition, despite essentially being an expensive figurehead, the royals do not spend their days in bed clapping their hands for Jeeves. Prince Harry is a member of the RAF out in Afghanistan, and is treated no differently to anyone else out there. As well as this, many charities and fundraisers claim they raise far more money if there is a royal there, as they draw in support. The royals seem to be largely popular across the country, with weddings and jubilees bringing holidays and street parties. It is difficult to argue against the royals when support for them is not in the hopes of gaining anything, but simply as they seem to bring joy. The recent royal wedding attracted almost 29 million viewers, demonstrating the vast amount of people who simply enjoy the state celebrities.
And so it is not an obvious debate. For some, it is clear that the royal family is of no use. They cost a lot of money, were not voted in yet still maintain an ultimate political power. However this view is arguably extreme, as the queen rarely vetoes bills, and provides a lot for charitable causes. Furthermore the queen manages to bring the country together in a patriotic and unifying sense. But to an extent, we have to question whether the benefits they bring are truly worth the cost, and in a majority of cases the facts often lead to the conclusion that they are not.