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”.

Tomorrow: pondering who we are in the UK

Iain Mcwhirter says we could not have asked for a more definitively English celebration of national identity than the Queen’s celebrations last week.

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

8 thoughts on “Jubilee reflections 1: Supporting charities burnishes the royal image

  1. As someone who was born in England (outside my control!) and has worked in Wales for almost all my working life, something that was recognised in my award of an OBE for ‘Services to the Environment in Wales’ (and I guess you can see what’s coming…) I have been proud to call myself ‘British’ and celebrate the many cultures in these islands and the collective that is Great Britain, without in any way diminishing my love and support of Wales as a nation within a family of nations.

    I suppose it is inevitable that anti-monarchists and republicans will get more coverage at times like these as journalists seek to raise the temperature in the name of media balance. I don’t hold strong views on the monarchy, but I believe the Queen has done consistently well in a difficult and changing job which she didn’t choose – she was born into it, and it is still a fundamental part of our constitution which she has sought to uphold and undertake (nearly always) with common sense and aplomb. I also see the monarchy as integral to our ‘constitution’ and a much better alternative, and a much better guarantee of individual freedoms and liberties and our cultural way of life (a foil if you like) than a presidential style of government where all the power resides in one person (effectively) and is a hostage to fortune as is evidence in ‘presidents’ – past and present – across the world. We are a lot safer residing in our system.

    Having said all that, why is it that every time I open a paper, etc I find this republican anti-royalist given space to air his minority viewpoint? It seems the trend is to continue in tomorrow’s piece, and I wonder, John Osmond, whether you are using this blog to promote your own viewpoint? By all means air different views, and support free speech, but at the same time is it too much to ask for balance and fairness in the contributions, with some supporting other viewpoints?

    Perhaps this will serve that purpose, as well as setting out some alternative thoughts. Anyway, I feel a lot better having got it off my chest!!

    Nic Wheeler, OBE.

  2. At last! It’s a pleasure to read an article questioning the role of the Royal Family and charity. You don’t necessarily have to be a republican to find the claims regarding royal patronage over the top and disingenuous. I’m afraid the worst royal culprit would appear to be Prince William (who is also the worst royal rugby patron in the world!) who seems to think a little charity work is a panacea for everything.

  3. Very hard indeed to argue that the media are full of republican sentiments. Compared with the tide of royalist writing (I avoid the loaded words guff and propaganda) republican pieces are a drop in the bucket. If ClickonWales peddled rupublican propaganda for a year it still wouldn’t redress the balance given the rest of the media. People must have the symbols they want and the Queen does represent political neutrality and continuity. Unfortunately she also represents inherited privilege and servility. I suppose it’s a matter of taste. And presidents are not necessarily all-powerful. You can have a non-hereditary head of state who is not a head of government. The Irish seem to do it well with a succession of (women) presidents who are more highly esteemed than their prime ministers.

  4. Well said Mr. Wheeler and congratulations on your OBE which I am sure is well merited. It comes as no surprise that Paul Flynn has ‘rubbished’ the recent celebrations, and Welsh nationalists and supporters (both overt and covert) have joined the bashing exercise! The monarchy, like much of the British constitution is not perfect, but, where is this perfection to be found? I genuinely believe that ordinary people like myself, and my parents have lived in a free country, with open choices and the monarchy is part of that structure, but you can’t please all the people all the time. The one thing that can be said of Welsh nationalists and their supporters is that they are consistently over-represented, particularly at BBC Wales, and the media in general. The vast majority get on with their lives and worry about things that really matter, like the sewer in Europe, crime, rubbish and general untidiness, the growth of a fat/lazy underclass living off other peoples backs, but not constitutional matters.

  5. “Having said all that, why is it that every time I open a paper, etc I find this republican anti-royalist given space to air his minority viewpoint? ”

    A bit like how many of us felt and still do over the last few weeks with the sickening show of British Nationalism and royal sycophancy being rammed down our throats in every shop, pub, supermarket, council building and on all TV channels and newspapers, whether we agreed with it or not. At least you can choose not to read certain articles or newspapers. The rest of us were stuck with it and labelled boring, miserable and party pooping, for daring to question the false hysteria.

    In fact Pontypool still looks like it did during the Jubolympics, even the council owned library has a Dirty Jack in its window – talk about impartiality. The whole town looks like Nick Griffin was given freedom of the borough!

  6. “I genuinely believe that ordinary people like myself, and my parents have lived in a free country, with open choices and the monarchy is part of that structure”

    So not having a monarchy denies you a structure of freedom and open choices…?

    USA, France, Germany, Switzerland?

  7. No it doesn’t, but we have one and it has never caused myself or my family any major problems in our lifetimes, so I try and support the monarchical system we have, but clearly in a very limited fashion. The ‘knockers’ of our current constitutional arrangement (not perfect to be sure) are continually griping about everything, however it ain’t that bad and does work for ordinary people like myself. HM the Queen has been a wonderful monarch, whose service has been recognised throughout the world and celebrations to mark 60 years in the job, are perfectly reasonable and proportionate. The two major changes in my lifetime – 1. a transfer of powers to europe and 2. devolution – have hardly set the world alight, and hopefully 1. will shortly come to an end and we will reclaim the power to deal with criminal classes as we wish, 2. will collapse to poor quality of politicians in Wales. In view of 1. and 2. why would I want another major change, i.e setting up a republic?

  8. It’s noticeable that both Nic Wheeler and Howell Morgan fail to address the main concern of Paul Flynn’s article, namely the relationship between the Royals and the true value/cost of their charity work.

    Let’s have a look at a specific example: William and Harry and the Enduro Africa event in 2008. Here’s one report:

    “Princes William and Harry managed to raise just £1,500 each for a charity event in South Africa, even though the trip cost taxpayers a whopping £30,000.

    The princes paid £5,000 – which included flights, bike hire and a £1,500 charity donation – to take part in the 1,100-mile bike-ride.

    However, six guards from the Royal Protection Squad who accompanied the princes on their eight-day journey cost British taxpayers more than £30,000.

    Mark Wallace, of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said last week: ‘It’s astonishing they couldn’t have tapped up their family for a bit more sponsorship – especially considering who that family are.

    ‘It’s great doing things like this for charity, but you’ve got to look at the actual costs and benefits of any project.’

    In total, 85 people, including the princes, raised a total of £300,000.

    83 bikers raised an average of £3,500 each, but William and Harry only contributed £3,000 in total.

    The princes’ spokesman said: ‘The princes both donated the minimum required to take part, but their presence on the ride, as with their support of other charities, raised its profile and we expect more riders to be taking part next year, so it raises more money indirectly.”

    So the best defence the Palace could offer is the dubious claim that they might raise the profile of an already popular event. Possibly. And I find myself in agreement with a representative from the Tax Payers’ Alliance (for once!) – the boys could have dipped a little more generously into their pocket money or even tapped up their relatives for this good cause.

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