With Brexit, a dysfunctional Labour party and Theresa May not fairing much better, the political landscape of Britain in 2016 is at best looking extremely unstable. One thing that remains a constant, however, is the monarchy, and in turn, the British public’s unwavering support for the institution.
Will and Kate’s visit to the University of Manchester on Friday 14th of October to view the National Graphene Institute in support of Manchester’s achievements in science and engineering is largely welcomed by a student body that, in our recent survey, overwhelmingly sees the monarchy as a force for good. When asked if they thought that the monarchy was good or bad for Britain, 52.9 per cent responded that they thought they were good, while only 35.6 per cent responded that they thought they were a detrimental to Britain and 11.6 per cent were unsure.
While to some this may be surprising—students are usually seen as a body of people that are more progressive and radical than their older counter parts—the poll merely follows the general trend that sees the British public as being very favourable in their views of the monarchy. A recent YouGov poll confirms this in also finding that 68 per cent of people think that the monarchy is good for Britain.
And this is true not only among all age groups, students and the older generation alike, but unusually actually is a commonly held opinion across all political leanings and parties— Conservative voters through to Labour and Liberal Democrats are overwhelmingly of the opinion that our royal institution is a positive force.
In times of economic uncertainty, the question has to be asked as to why students still feel that the power and the inherited wealth of our monarchy is still important to Britain. What do they bring to Britain that makes them such favourable figures compared to our elected politicians?
A running theme in many students’ answers to our survey is that the monarchy, and our dear Queen, act as a “representative of British culture, industry, and values abroad” and losing them would almost make Britain “un-British”. The monarchy, and Will and Kate with it, are seen in times like these as anchors that secure the British identity, similar as the reasoning for many to vote for Brexit—an act that for many was an attempt to retain a sense of “Britishness” that many felt was lost with part of the European Union. Sheer nationalism alone is not the sole factor however, when many, perhaps understandably, believe that the monarchy acts as effective and stable head of state in comparison to our chaotic political leaders of the moment.
Will and Harry in particular are seen as particularly positive influences, that “do a lot of good for this country” in terms of their extensive charity work and service in the armed forces. Many people value that they act as “moral” role-models for younger people and their admirable behaviour is endearing to many.
However, while they are seen as a good thing for Britain, overwhelmingly students of the University of Manchester think they should not be funded by the tax payer. In our survey, 62 per cent of students think that the royal family shouldn’t be in any way funded through the taxes of the general public. The view of one student, echoed by many, is that “hereditary monarchy is an affront to democracy and the fact that we pay so much for their upkeep, security and so on is an added insult.” The idea that money and power can be inherited by some and paid for by everyone is, many feel, “fundamentally undemocratic”.
Those for the state providing a tax payer funded salary for some members of the monarchy generally justify it with the sentiment that the Queen is great business when attracting tourists to visit the UK. The idea that the “net profit” the royals provide the economy with because they are a “major draw for international tourism” is a widespread one, if unsubstantiated. And while many people think their multi-million pound budget is a small price to pay compared to their contribution to the economy, VisitBritain, the national tourist agency, can’t find any evidence that that the monarchy is a driving force in tourism. While hard to quantify, it’s true that Chester Zoo, Stonehenge, and the Roman Baths are all more successful tourist attractions than Windsor Castle.
The general trend, according to another YouGov poll, is also that the public thinks that the royals on tax-payers payroll should be slimmed down to just the head of state and her direct descendants, which luckily for Will and Kate means they won’t be left in the lurch, but more distant relatives might need to start looking for a new career path.
An argument that some students took when giving their reasoning for supporting the monarchy is that the monarchy is not actually funded by the state but “through the sovereign grant”. In this they mean that the money that the Crown Estate makes from land ownership generates a large amount of revenue for the HM Treasury every year, and in turn the monarchy receives a percentage of this, essentially, as their salary. For many students, this large contribution to the state is reason enough that they receive such a massive yearly income of £43.9 million. Many feel that because the money comes from their land ownership that in fact they’re not funded by the tax payer at all and are entirely self-sufficient. However, the majority of students see their land ownership as immaterial and elitist; an archaic tradition that goes against the meritocracy that our society is supposedly built on.
And while the £40 million is already an extravagant sum compared to the average salary of a four-person family, the fact that the cost of security is picked up by the metropolitan police and the costs of visits are picked up by local councils such as Manchester City, hides the fact that the cost of the royal family is in fact even higher than the public is first lead to believe. Republic, the lobbying body that want the monarchy abolished, say that “the real cost of the monarchy to British taxpayers is likely to be around £334m annually.”
In this, one student voiced the opinion of many when saying: “I do not believe ancestry entitles anyone to receive more than anyone else.” Others were keen to point out that the endowment the royal family receive only “entrenches societal hierarchies and reinforces class distinctions.”
Additionally, in a time where cuts to public services such as the police and the NHS are so severe, a very common belief is that the money should be directed into services that benefit the wider public and not the privileged few at the coronated top.
However strongly the population feels about the monarchy’s finances, it still remains to be said that they remain favourable figures and key in perceptions of national identity. Being tied to our cultural heritage as a nation is increasingly seen as being of key importance, and to students and members of the wider public they are seen as not relics from the past but symbols of what it means to be quintessentially British.
Their relatively scandal-free last few years have kept the negative press to a minimum whilst providing wholesome British family values through Will and Kate’s young children. This low profile has allowed them to escape serious criticism of their funding in times of cuts to other public services, and generally allowed people to not think too seriously on where they stand. And while their reign is characterised by a likeability factor—the Queen being “cute and fluffy” as one student put it—it’s ensured that their place at the head of Britain will not be challenged any time soon.
Photo: mrschnips @Flickr