Half a World Away

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The latest royal doings provoke our columnist.

I'm sorry, but I can't resist it any longer. The royal family might be an embarrassingly easy target, but with home secretary Charles Clarke's suggestion for 'citizenship ceremonies' to swear allegiance to them, I can't hold back my treasonous thoughts any longer.

Let's swiftly pass over the small detail that you can't be a citizen and a subject simultaneously. Either we're all equal, or some are more equal than others. Retaining a monarchy clearly ensures the latter, and means that constitutional guarantees are little more than a gentlemen's agreement.

Instead, let's imagine what these wonderful ceremonies will be like. Perhaps we could start with some ritual forelock-tugging, followed by a long statement of royal allegiance. This could take a similar form to the denunciation of the devil made by candidates seeking confirmation into the Catholic church. But the devil's place could be taken by trendy English teachers and their civilisation-threatening habit of dropping their 't's. Their insane plot to breed a generation who do not 'know their place' could be contrasted with Prince Charles's missionary efforts to teach the language to his trees.

Clearly those trees are worth a lot to old Charles - £2.3 million to be precise. At least, that's the sum he sold them to himself for. You see, the Greenscombe woods on which they grow belong to the Duchy of Cornwall, but the trees, he claims, belonged to him. However, so does the Duchy of Cornwall.

This 700 year old 144,000-acre estate also sells organic biscuits, jams, sausages and plants and is worth £463 million. It was a 21st birthday present from the queen (personally I was happy to get a camera from my parents). Handily, it pays no commercial taxes - a break that has saved him an estimated £20 million. Given that his annual income is a mere £12 million (up 300 percent since 1993), I'm sure that his tenants facing rising rents understand that times are tight.

After all, the abandoned prosecution of ex-butler Paul Burrell has surely put a stop to that nice sideline of flogging off royal gifts. This used to rake in about £100,000 a year. Charles's former valet - known as 'Fawcett the fence' - has since been forced to resign. But skid row does not appear to be beckoning. In a curious piece of financial symmetry, the ever generous prince sold him his old grace and favour house for... £100,000 less than its reported worth, according to the Independent. And with a name like his a casting call from EastEnders is surely only a matter of time.

As the Duchy's accounts point out, the prince has significant outgoings - including the upkeep of Camilla Parker Bowles, whose state function is presumably to make the rest of the royals appear to be hardworking. Of course only a cynic would suggest that the announcement of their engagement was timed to deflect attention from an embarrassing House of Commons investigation into such largesse.

The Duchy also provides for the maintenance of Charles's sons William and Harry. In the light of Harry's recent swastika sartorial faux pas, a decent history tutor might be in order (preferably one who doesn't do his coursework for him).

Of course, New Labour monarchists have jumped to Harry's defence. He's only 20, they say, and bound to make mistakes. Yet these same cretins support the age of criminal responsibility being ten, one of the lowest figures in the world. David Blunkett went even further and denounced 'thugs' of nine and under. Presumably we can Asbo toddlers if they're from council estates but not adult princes who get into drunken brawls and trivialise the Holocaust.

But the imperial arrogance of the 'colonials and natives' party attended by Harry, his brother and the rest of the fox-hunting, PC-baiting 'Hampstead set' is no blip. It's part of a long family history of bigotry. The queen mother, for example, was more than a drunken gambling addict. The obsequious eulogies made to her after her death battled to hide the fact that she'd never actually done anything useful in her life - unless you count being alive for a long time - and that most people would struggle to remember her ever saying anything.

This is just as well given her penchant for calling black people 'nig-nogs', her support for white minority rule in Rhodesia and her recommendation of Hitler's Mein Kampf because 'even a skip through gives you a good idea of his obvious sincerity'. The Duke of Windsor - for years held up as a romantic figure who abdicated for love - shared those sympathies. His plans to return to the throne through collaborating with the Nazis were hidden by 'the Queen Mum' for 50 years.

Given the grotesques' gallery that she married into, some have sympathised with Diana, the sainted 'Queen of Hearts'. Surely anyone called 'a trollop and a harlot' by the Duke of Edinburgh cannot be all bad. But let's not pretend she was a woman of the people. She died with a £20 million estate, the product of an outlook so stingy that she used to sell her clothes to charity shops.

You might think that such relics would be out of place in New Labour's brave new world. But Blair's 'meritocracy' is one in which those born rich - whether through 'old' or 'new' money - will receive entirely different life chances. So why bother having an elected second chamber when you can appoint 'representative' peers such as judges and police chiefs? And if you need a spurious title to get Alan Milburn back in the Cabinet, there's always the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (the queen's estate that made her a piffling £8 million last year). This has the added bonus that if anyone asks Blair about his relationship with Gordon Brown he can say with complete honesty, 'I am in complete agreement with the chancellor...' then whisper, '...of the Duchy of Lancaster.'

While the Windsors may not be the best advert for swimming in the shallow end of the gene pool, they are hardly unique in the history of monarchical repugnance. But whereas the ranks of absolutism were swelled by idiots drunk on power, modern royals can only cling to ancient privileges retained at the expense of their relevance.

The idea that we should bow and scrape to such a family is obscene. It has been suggested that we expose the ridiculousness of the hereditary principle on which they rely by employing their doctors on the same basis. Forget medical school; it's all in the genes! But this approach is still too laissez-faire. We need an interventionist policy of hiring hereditary bodyguards, pilots, train drivers and chefs. If the assassins don't do for them, then maybe mouldy foie gras will do the trick.