Jubilee reflections 1: Supporting charities burnishes the royal image

Paul Flynn argues that a currency of sycophancy is engulfing us in contagious infantilism

Is royalty propping up charities or are charities shoring up royalty? The royal spin machine is in overdrive. The Charities Aid Foundation claimed their ‘new research’ shows that  “The Queen supports hundreds of British charities to raise £1.4bn a year for good causes”.

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The research was limited to adding up the total income of all the 510 charities that have the Queen’s imprimatur on their notepaper. No comparison was made with the income of charities that lack royal approval. The Foundation confesses that they know of no proven advantage of the royal seal of approval. No calculation was attempted on what amount of the £1.4bn was attributable to patronage. There is no causal link.

The tenuous historic links between charities and royalty have increased to match the declining public approval of royalty in the past 30 years. The myth of the fairytale blue-blooded superbeings died. The newly minted myth of an ideal family disappeared under the triple stain of three royal divorces. Cosying up to charities was the new wheeze to spread to royals by osmosis the goodwill that charities enjoy. It also provided a new role to justify the income support that the nation donates to the under-employed minor royals. It appears to be working.

The Family supports 2,415 charities in Britain and nearly 3,000 worldwide. The patronage business is now a core role for royals major and minor. Royal approval troughed at the death of Diana. The firm was in trouble. They are now riding high with the new royals who are imitating Diana’s work to win public approval. The royal spinners have written the script. Diana’s popularity grew from her courage in backing the unfashionable causes of Aids, leprosy, young care leavers and eliminating land mines. Younger royals are moving into the edgier charities. It’s good for burnishing the image of new royalty but there is no proof of the value of patronage.

Are struggling worthy charities disadvantaged when funds are diverted to the causes favoured by royals? Are the public subsiding royals in their charity promotions? A visit of a minor royal to my constituency may have raised £1,000 in income. It cost the taxpayer more that £30,000 in policing and other security. The public stood nil-deep on the pavement. To avoid embarrassment a group of schoolchildren were given flags and bussed in to provide a hollow ritual cheer.

Metropolitan Police chief Sir Paul Stephenson complained publicly in 2010 on the cost of providing armed round the clock security to Princess Eugenie and other B-list royals. No official figures are ever provided on costs. It was estimated that the Princess cost taxpayers £250,000 to protect. The bill was estimated at £50million a year for 22 members of the Royal Family. The cost balloons with increased royal activity.

If royal standing is to be measured in the total their charities collect, the arms race is on to multiply the charities blessed by them. The Princess Royal supports 200 charities, including what may be the full collection of  “Worshipful Companies”. The Royal website proclaims her devotion the Worshipful Of Butchers, Of Carmen, Of Farmers, Of Farriers Of Fishmongers, Of Loriners and Of Woolmen. Is there a danger that no more collectable charities are available?  Any perceived benefit might then disappear because of universal royal approval.

The Charity Aid Foundation would be better employed sounding the alarm bells on the crisis of charities. Charity Market Monitor studies the annual finances of the top 500 charities. They show that the main determinant in varying income is public sympathy. The country is restless and guilt-ridden because of the deaths of our soldiers in a futile war in Afghanistan. The thousands of survivors who are broken in mind or body have aroused deep anger that triggers generosity. The Monitor reports that. ‘The fund-raised income of the top services/ex-services charities from the public grew by a real 6.2 per ent in 2009-10, compared with an average fall of -1.1 per cent”. There is no known correlation for royal patronage.

Charities are facing a crisis with budget cuts up to £4billion in the life of the Coalition government. The derisory grants from the Big Society will provide a parsimonious minute fraction of their losses.

Overblown, uncritical, baseless claims of the influence of royals are the currency of sycophancy that engulfs us in contagious infantilism. The heroes of the charity world are flag sellers and jumble sale organisers who are inspired to sacrifice their talents and time for good causes. Many of those will resent the self-serving royals’ attempt to grab the credit for the thankless work of millions.

Paul Flynn is Labour MP for Newport West. This article appears on his blog here

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