My rush-hour commute this morning was greatly improved by anticipation of what the royal announcement might be all about. I actively ignore monarchy-related news as much as possible, but this had an air of importance about it. Would Harry be having an out-of-wedlock baby with that actress The Sun is obsessed with? Is the Queen dead? Had they decided our taxes might be put to better use improving the NHS, tackling homelessness or ending child poverty rather than paying for palaces and private jets for unelected officials?
No such luck. Turns out we were all on tenterhooks for no reason, and they just wanted to let us know that Prince Philip is finally retiring (that’s the Queen’s husband, for anyone as uninterested in the monarchy as me). He’s luckier than most people – my generation, for instance, for whom retirement will surely become a pipe dream before we reach our golden years, as well as the current pensioners who are forced to make ends meet on the meagre £122.30 per week they’re entitled to. No £122.30 for Phil, though.
It’s not the Duke of Edinburgh’s retirement that we should be worrying about, however, but rather the question of how he kept his job for as long as he did. Somehow despite his numerous controversial and often xenophobic “gaffes”, this man has continued to be allowed to at least partly represent Britain for more than 50 years. If there were ever a moment to question our own complacency as a nation, this is it.
Prince Philip memorably once asked the 11 multi-ethnic members of dance group Diversity if they were all related and has stated that wind farms for renewable energy are a “disgrace”. He even once suggested that London ban tourists, which ironically enough are most people’s only argument for keeping him and the rest of the royal family in the job in the first place.
That’s without even going into the time he asked a female sea cadet if she worked in a strip club, or the time he told the President of Nigeria, who met him in national dress, “You look like you’re ready for bed”, the time he said to Atul Patel “There’s a lot of your family in tonight” at a reception for influential Indian people, or the time he neatly summarised the employment crisis during the 1981 recession by saying: “A few years ago, everyone was saying we must have more leisure, everyone’s working too much. Now everybody’s got more leisure time they’re complaining they’re unemployed. People don’t seem to make up their minds what they want.”
No one really cares whether Prince Philip continues to carry out his “royal duties” or not – most of us don’t even know what they are (mostly standing around near the Queen while she cuts ribbons and attends dinners, if you were wondering). But there’s a dangerous optimism in the possibility of a younger generation of royals. It makes it all too easy to be tricked into supporting an institution which on its face may seem to be becoming more progressive, but is in fact a serious problem in a civilised society.
We can be sympathetic to Prince Harry’s mental health campaigning, think Kate Middleton’s babies are cute, find the Queen relatively inoffensive, and think Buckingham Palace makes London prettier, but let’s not forget that what lies at the heart of the royal family is a long history of representing only the upper echelons of society, and supporting a system in which your surname and social pedigree dictate the opportunities available to you. Every day, people on low incomes in full-time work give part of their salary to uphold these people’s “birthright” to free money and a couple of castles.
The royal family’s existence embodies our lack of social mobility and demeans the concept of democracy. Living in a country where the head of state is unelected can get downright demoralising, and that’s not going to change just because the older ones retire and the young “woke” ones take over. Let’s all take this opportunity to be thankful that Prince Philip is no longer representing our country, but wary of a system which ever allowed him to in the first place. Perhaps now is the time to start phasing out the monarchy.