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Prince Charles Belongs on a Bicycle
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The Republic of Great Britain. How's that sound? No billionaire queen, no indiscreet princes and princesses. No royal lackeys. No Lady of the Bedchamber or other Ladies-in-Waiting. Not even a Keeper of the Privy Purse.

In short, no monarchy - that "silly, contemptible thing," as American revolutionary Tom Paine called it in one of his frequent fits of revolutionary pique.

Word from London, in the wake of Prince Charles' marriage to his long-time sweetie, Camilla Parker Bowles, is that it finally could happen.

It's been more than two centuries since Paine and his fellow colonists forcibly pointed out the shortcomings of that king and queen business to their red-coated cousins. But better the British understand late than never, better a republic now than King Charles III later.

Charles, to give him his due, has kept busy while waiting to succeed his mother. He's been serving simultaneously as the Prince of Wales, Earl of Carrick, Baron of Renfrew and, what's more, Lord of the Isles and Great Steward of Scotland.

It's hard work, too, often involving the tiresome duty of mingling with commoners - "those bloody people," as he recently was heard to describe those of the journalistic persuasion - even though the chore of actually governing them is left to the elected prime minister and Parliament.

Think of it: All that toil merely for the vast sums of money supplied by Charles' loyal subjects and the vast holdings of real estate and other valuable property with which royalty is burdened.

Like his royal siblings, Charles also has been quite busy entertaining the plebeian masses with extra-marital romps, that being just about the only real services the royals provide. Charles' entertaining escapades, of course, were with Camilla while he was still married to the late Princess Diana.

It appears, however, that the masses are no longer amused, as witness the general lack of public interest in Charles' marriage and lingering anger over his caddish treatment of Diana. Nor do many Brits seem amused that someone with his background might ascend to the throne. For that would make philanderer Charles, among other morally weighty things, titular head of the Anglican Church and thus Britain's officially designated "Defender of the Faith."

Most important, says British historian Robert Lacey, people are well aware that "he is not kingly."

But a king Charles will someday be - unless the monarchy is at last tossed into the dustbin of history. That once highly remote prospect has become feasible, say some of those who know the Brits best. As Britain's Guardian newspaper noted, the forces seeking to make the country a republic "scent blood." The republicans also have launched anti-royalist campaigns in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other Commonwealth nations where the British monarch is still the official head of state.

British rock star Elvis Costello has even ventured to ask, "Why do we subsidize this family of buffoons? What makes them so important? I just don't understand why we subsidize people who just go on holiday all the time."

The notoriously outspoken British press has not been kind, either, referring rudely to the monarchy as "medieval... a sentimental Victorian concept .. an anti-democratic absurdity." The London Daily Mirror wrote of the royal family's "meanness, greed, and blinkered disregard for the feelings of the people."

Queen Elizabeth has gone to extremes to try to save the monarchy. She's now even paying income taxes and has removed the princes, princesses and some other royal relatives from the public payroll, opened Buckingham Palace to paying tourists and taken other unqueenly steps to help meet the household expenses of her sundry mansions and castles.

She's given up the royal yacht Britannia, which had been costing the Royal Navy about $16 million a year to operate. Why, she's kept only three jet planes, a 12-coach train, five Rolls Royces and several other nicely gilded but quite ancient horse-drawn carriages to get around to her subjects.

Although Elizabeth tastefully declines to discuss such tacky matters as money , it's reliably estimated that her personal wealth has dwindled to probably no more than $10 billion.

Abolishing the monarchy may be too much to expect, but at least the royal family might be forced to embrace the modest lifestyle of Europe's other royals. London columnist Michael Ignatieff suggested as an apt model "a humble Scandinavian monarchy, which bicycles to work, keeps itself busy in inoffensive good works and tries desperately to make itself so boring that the tabloids will give up the chase."

Imagine that: Charles, would-be king of the Britons, compelled to exchange his Rolls for a bicycle.

Copyright 2005 Dick Meister