By Alex Marsh
Want to know the secret to affording £2.4 million worth of home renovations? The key can be found in membership – or in their case, ex-membership – of the British royal family.
First time around, the couple made use of taxpayers’ money to do up their UK residence, modestly and rather inaccurately named Frogmore Cottage. But upon their messy withdrawal from royal duties, Meghan and Harry had to find a new solution for paying back the costs of the renovations, opting for a multi-million pound deal with Netflix to plug the gap. If there wasn’t already evidence enough to prove that there is no real need to subsidise the royal family through the public purse this is surely it – even when you are ‘out’ of the firm it is only too easy to fund the royal lifestyle whilst remaining financially independent.
The fact that a family of enormous personal wealth initially charged the Treasury such a large sum of money points to the absurdity of publicly funding the monarchy. The annual £65 million cost seems all the more burdensome when successive British governments have claimed, albeit often disingenuously, that they can’t find the funds to properly support health and welfare services for ordinary people.
It is admittedly hard to criticise the couple for capitalising on their exit from one of Britain’s most conservative institutions, infamously resistant to modernisation and by all accounts an unfriendly place for a mixed-race, once-divorced American with no royal heritage.
Upon their withdrawal from royal duties, Harry and Meghan were forced to agree never to use their HRH titles or receive public money. This appears reasonable enough, until you learn that Prince Andrew gave up neither in similar circumstances last year, despite the fact he has been accused of having a sexual encounter with seventeen year old Virginia Roberts, who was trafficked by Jeffrey Epstein. The double-standard here is blatant, pointing to a culture within the royal family that penalises independence of thought far more severely than any other form of ‘infraction’. The fact that Prince Andrew is still a member of the royal family highlights how in a system which ensures a public role through the accident of birth rather than through election, a lack of fairness and accountability is inevitable.
No doubt compounding the couple’s decision to withdraw from royal duties was the brutal treatment Meghan encountered at the hands of the British tabloids, as they launched a smear campaign against the Duchess as soon as her relationship with the Prince was revealed. Racist headlines describing Meghan as “(almost) straight outta Compton” became commonplace. It should be a source of enormous shame that a large proportion of the British population supported publications which victimised Meghan Markle purely because of her heritage and progressive worldview, and that the royal family was unable to provide the couple with the necessary support for them to feel able to continue in their roles.
Ironically, in pushing Harry and Meghan away, the royal family and the British press might have significantly reduced the life expectancy of the monarchy as an institution. Whilst the Queen, and the royal family more generally, remain largely popular, as with all institutions the monarchy must adapt to survive.
Meghan provided the royal family with an opportunity for change, better reflecting the diversity of modern Britain and offering a break with the prudishness so often associated with the institution. Her departure signals an end to the modernisation she represented, and whilst favourable public opinion appears to ensure the survival of the royal family for the moment, future generations will likely prove less forgiving of such a costly, bloated-in-size and out-of-touch institution.
Harry and Meghan have opted out of monarchy for good, the only question remaining is when the British public will do the same.
Image: Andy Brown via Flickr.