How about those pictures of wee Prince George? Any parent would have smiled with recognition at the scene: A happy young couple, their first baby and their slobbering dog, who looked like he wanted to be off eating a rabbit. How normal. How average!
In fact, the photograph of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their infant son was judged to be a bit too average. The photographer, the baby’s granddad Michael Middleton, got the lighting a little wrong. The setting – the yard of the Middletons’ home – was awfully casual for a father who recently listed his job title as “Prince of the United Kingdom.” There was not a palace in sight. Could this have been a rare misstep for the handsome young couple?
Don’t bet your engraved china on it. The artlessness of the photo was both deliberate and canny. I lived in England for eight years, and reported on the Royal Family, and I can tell you they don’t do anything by accident. The young royals, in particular, are surrounded by advisers and public-relations people who are savvy, discreet and operate with a laser-guided precision that would make NASA bow its head in shame.
The main goal at the moment is to make the Cambridges seem as normal, sleep-deprived and stumbling-around-the-supermarket as any new parents. And I’m sure they are; they seem like a lovely couple, besotted with their baby. That does not change the fact they are also part of an archaic and privileged institution that is completely out of place in the contemporary world.
That’s what the picture is meant to hide. If viewers are dazzled by the photogenic family, they’re less likely to think “Wait a minute. That baby is going to be head of state based solely on whose womb it occupied for nine months. Did I fall asleep and miss the modern age? Is Brooklyn Beckham the captain of the England football team?”
I think I prefer the term “medieval anomaly.” That’s how Labour MP Austin Mitchell recently described the fact that Prince Charles appears to be not paying his fair share of tax on a 700-year-old gift from his forebears. The U.K.’s Public Accounts Committee examined the revenue the Prince of Wales took in last year from his Duchy of Cornwall estate, a vast holding worth $1.25-billion that draws commercial rents from, among other things, a grocery chain, a hotel and a prison. On income of $31-million, Prince Charles paid a voluntary tax of $7.2-million, which MPs noted was a lower rate than many of his servants would have to pay. (According to his 2012 accounts, the Prince of Wales employs 135 staff, including two valets and an equerry. I’m not sure what an equerry is, but I’m pretty sure it makes life easier.)
The Wall Street Journal, that bastion of Marxism, noted that “one might consider that if Britain’s tax rates would be a burden on Charles, they are all the more so on Britons who don’t have the option of deciding what counts as income, or how much they can afford to pay.”
In June, it was announced that the Queen will receive a pay increase of 5 per cent next year, bringing her income up to $62-million. The Queen, of course, is incredibly hard-working and beloved, and perhaps not a single eyebrow would have been raised if the news hadn’t come a day after the country reeled from a further $19-billion in cuts to the already flat public purse.
These troublesome issues are not what people want to think about when they can coo over a pink and cuddly new prince, who will one day have a polo pony and throne of his own. It’s easier to look at William, the heroic RAF rescue pilot, and not wonder about the odd and musty tradition he inherits.
We might as well add “intrusive” to that list. London’s Sunday Times newspaper reported this weekend that Prince Charles, known for his political meddling, has seeded “moles” from his staff into the political bureaucracy. Not the cute kind of moles who sit on river banks, either. As one unnamed minister told the paper, “I think it’s undemocratic. It raises questions about whether Prince Charles is exceeding his position as a constitutional monarch in waiting.”
We don’t know what Charles’s true thoughts about politics are, since his letters to ministers have been suppressed by Britain’s attorney-general, who said that making them public would be “seriously damaging to his role as future monarch.” (A panel of three judges ruled the letters should be available to the public, but that decision was overturned.)
That’s the modern, open, transparent monarchy for you. But I don’t want to think about it any more. It’s making my brain hurt. Where’s the picture of the cute baby again?