The Guardian 16 March, 2005

Culture and Life

by Rob Gowland

"The Firm" at work

I do tend to go on a bit about the Royals, don't I? That's because they epitomise a social system that doesn't just tolerate inequality, it positively exalts it.

No doubt you saw those television images of crowds of people coming out to welcome our Mary. Prince Charles was not without a small, loyal following during his visit who took the opportunity to see him "up close". Some women even went to the extent of ostentatiously kissing him, as though he was a poor lost lamb who needed mothering.

The ability of the capitalist media to make people feel like that about a middle-aged toff is a scary testament to the power of modern techniques of persuasion. For Charles, despite his frequent fallings out with sectors of the ruling class, is no lost lamb.

He is in fact a filthy rich landowner who is used to having the best of everything as a matter of course. In return for attending dinners for consumptives and dances for crippled children, inspecting new power-stations and housing estates and lending his presence to promote new civic enterprises, he can live a life of idle leisure.

Not for him the dream of being a famous scientist, art historian or chef. He had it drilled into from an early age that his future "career" was with the family firm. And, given the generous perks that go with the job, it's small wonder that he did not refuse to follow that route.

Prince Charles' landholdings are large enough by any standards, but in view of the tiny size of the British Isles, they could be called vast.

Charles' mum, the richest woman in the world, gave him for his 21st birthday the 700-year-old Duchy of Cornwall. (My mum gave me a very nice gold watch that still probably cost less than one of Charles' cufflinks.)

The Duchy of Cornwall includes 70,000 acres in Devon, 18,000 in Cornwall and 15,000 in Somerset not to mention most of the Isles of Scilly. In addition, it includes estates in Hemel Hempstead, Dorchester and Vauxhall.

Last year, Charles' income from the Duchy was a tidy 12 million. That was a rise of a mere twenty percent on the year before.

Charles gets his income from the Duchy rather than through the Civil List, so he probably thinks of himself as "self-employed" rather than as someone who is sponging off the public purse, like so many of his relatives.

But his income is derived from property that by rights belongs to the British people, not to him. And he's an expensive parasite, too.

In 1993, the Duchy paid him just under 3 million. Since then he has enjoyed a 300 percent pay rise. That's an increase of more than 25 percent a year. Not bad for a simple estate owner.

In the same period, average earnings earnings for his future "subjects" rose by a modest five percent a year. Charles' pay rise of course far outstripped inflation.

Shortly before Charles came out to Australia to be kissed by ladies who apparently do believe everything they read in the daily papers, his brother Andrew was in trouble with Britain's National Audit Office.

The NAO in late January had harsh words to say about Andy's travel expenses. It seems that the lad is not content with being able to include as part of his "official duties" going to the Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St Andrews in Scotland for a game of golf.

No, his status as a Royal allowed him to fly there in an RAF jet so that he could get in an extra hour's golf. This little junket cost the British taxpayer a cool 10,891.

In fact, it seems, Andrew has an aversion to your more common means of transport. According to the NAO, he insists on hiring helicopters rather than using scheduled flights or (God forbid) trains.

This preference for displaying how important he is (at least in his own mind) costs the long-suffering British taxpayers around 325,000 a year. No wonder the capitalist media have to spend so much time and space polishing up the royal image!

Incidentally, the reason Andrew gave for needing the RAF to fly him to St Andrews' for his golf game was that he had to get back to London urgently. In fact, his next official engagement was not for another four days.

Mind you, after playing golf and then being flown back to London, the poor lamb was probably prostrate with exhaustion for two or three days. They work these poor Royals too hard, I always say.

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