... And What Do You Do? is a hard-hitting analysis of the royal family, exposing its extravagant use of public money and the highly dubious behaviour of some among its ranks, whilst being critical of the knee-jerk sycophancy shown by the press and politicians. Baker also considers the wider role the royals play in society, including the link with House of Lords reform, and the constitutional position of the monarch, which is important given Prince Charles's present and intended approach.
What makes this book so unusual is that Baker is himself a member of the Privy Council, the body that officially advises the monarch. By turns irreverent and uncompromising, ... And What Do You Do? asks important questions about the future of the world's most famous royal family.
Update Feb 2022, Prince Harry dropped his father in it. Charles is being accused of taking money to fix up his various houses from a Saudi Arabian in exchange for him getting British citizenship and an honour ('Sir'). As the book revealed he's been doing this years - selling off invitations to his dinners, even more expensive ones to sit next to him (I think this is fairly common in celebrity and royal circles from what I've read, often for charitites, but sometimes for themselves) in order to get some of his more expensive restoration works funded although he could well fund them himself.
So what with Andrew paying off his abuse-accuser with $12M and now in trouble with helping a rich Russian do some money-laundering by selling his house for $3M more than it was on the market for and Harry and Meghan trading their royal titles for showbiz interviews and contracts, and various other royals, notably Princess Anne's children Peter and Zara doing brand endorsements they wouldn't otherwise have got (Peter does milk ads in China!) it seems that the general veneration for royals in the UK might be somewhat misplaced! It's a soap opera these days. __________
This book is a takedown of the Royal Household - mostly Prince Charles and the Queen, for not just getting the British taxpayer to pay for everything their British taxpayer funded top financial advisors can get for them, but also for ignoring laws and getting them changed in the interests of not being accountable and hiding their sources of income and details of their expenditure. 'Travel expenses' they decided didn't have to be declared under £10,000 per trip, which would nicely cover all the helicopter rides and chartering jets to go to European capitals.
If Baker was hoping to persuade the public that the Royals are a lot of ill-educated, extremely over-privileged leaches who think they are above the law and entitled to whatever they ask for by accident of birth, he does quite well. But The Crown is doing better.
They used to get away with all their trying to hold back transparency and modernity and protecting themselves from the results of scandalous behaviour because the press was deferential. It might have exposed the dreadful Nazi lovers, Edward and Mrs Simpson for the wicked people they were, but before the social-climbing Wallis Simpson came on the scene, they did not expose Edward's affairs with countless women, many married, nor Prince Philip's screwing around and mistresses. Or Princess Margaret getting stoned as well as drunk on Mustique and at private parties in Chelsea, waking up in men's beds whose name she couldn't remember.
Nowadays they would. The days when the press would suppress a story or a photograph of the Royals to spare their embarrasment have long gone. Now the more salactious, the more provoking a story, the better. Times have changed but the Royal Family do all they can to hold back modernity, they want to hide behind 'mystique'. They wouldn't be seen on bicycles doing the shopping like the Dutch royals, or any of their other European cousins (they are all related through Queen Victoria - 8 of her 9 children married European royals, mostly Germans).
The author also goes into much detail about the House of Lords, all of whom are either born into it having got titles for such things as being pirates or plantation owners who gave a share to the Crown, as well as other less or more worthy actions, usually some favour or other in times past.
To reform the House of Lords, hereditary peers were abolished, but not made illegal. So Margaret Thatcher, Conservative, made her husband one, thereby ensuring her son Mark, accused of racketeering and fraud and arrested in connection with an attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea, would be a Lord and sit in Parliament in fine robes with expenses from the taxpayer as would his son and son's son ad infinitum unless someone does something and we get a second elected house.
Labour were just as bad. Every single donor who gave a million pounds to the Labour Party was made a peer. As was Shami Chakrabarti who did a whitewash report on anti-Semitism in the Labour Party and got made a baroness. Still she got herself a title which is an odd thing to want for a radical far-left socialist to accept.
What spoils a 5 star book is the last chapter. The author gives his own opinions but frames them in such a way as to make the reader think that they are the general opinions of the British public when patently he speaks only for his moderately socialist, republic self and the minority of the country who actually voted for him (he lost) and his tiny party (they got smaller). ____________________
Notes on reading
If I had to sum the book up in one word it would be Corruption. But better in two, corruption corruption. Baker's book certainly lives up to it's title, I learned much of what the Royal Family and the fawning government don't want me to know.
Well, with the passing of Queen Elizabeth II and the coronation of Charles III, this book is still or even more timely, I guess.
Prerogative, Privilege and Power
“The members of the royal family have more than a 100 military medals and decorations between them … to be fair, a smattering of those do actually reflect active military service.”
Talking about unfailingly given support ....
This has been quite an engrossing and eye-opening book to listen to, especially with the jubilee celebrations starting in the UK and the gloomy reports on the economy (not just those of the UK) whose effects every one of us are feeling keenly, well.... maybe NOT the royal family as such.
As an aside: I am from Hungary and have the extremely bad luck of being able to boast about "unfailingly supporting" one of the most corrupt governments in Europe (and the world). And I don't even have the consolation to see our politicians (statesmen is just not a word to apply to them) possessing any of the olde worlde glamour and glitter of the Windsors. They are just arriviste parvenus, new kids on the block, up for grubs without style or exaltation. They still have much to learn about how to abuse taxpayers' money with ceremonious pomp and dignity. Anyway, what I am trying to say is that while I am just a spectator at this particular book show, as a taxpayer, I still feel for all of us whose money is taken by others for private matters while pretending this is in the public interest.
The above sarcastic comments notwithstanding, this has been a fascinating read/listen. The author, Norman Baker, former MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State and Minister of State at the Home Office, had insights to share big time. As a Liberal Democrat, he is obviously and understandably biased against throwing good money after bad to keep up the false glamour and untouchability of "The Palace" and not afraid to voice it all and list the grievances, which are not his personally, but relate to all British taxpayers (subjects of the Monarchy).
For me as a complete outsider, his qualms all seem quite reasonable and justified. The Royal Family do not interest him as private persons as such, but as public figures representing the UK and drawing an astounding amount of public money as “payment” (and besides having unreasonable demands relating to their private costs, the financial implications of which should be covered by themselves).
We are also offered some very interesting historical explanation on the relationship between the governments and the monarchs, the press and the monarchs and how the family of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha became Windsors during WWI.
Some of the more interesting comments (for me) from the book:
- “..the royal family is pathologically wedded to secrecy”
- “....with magnificent self-delusion, he probably really did believe he was acting in the best interests of Britain and his absurd self-importance probably clouded his judgement as to the consequences of his actions.” - Chapter 5 (actually, I forgot whether it was said of Prince Charles or Prince Andrew. But it does not matter much, this is pretty much the general attitude.)
- “The members of the royal family have more than a 100 military medals and decorations between them … to be fair, a smattering of those do actually reflect active military service.” Chapter 8
- “It is the fossilised royal patronage dating from 1348 that prevents the mould being broken in Britain despite the clear need to do so. The majority of honours are of course not allocated by the monarch, but by the PM of the day, but the royal practices established legitimacy for patronage and provided cover for politicians who seek to use and abuse it. (...) A system based on merit may not sound like a revolutionary concept, but if taken to its logical conclusion, would cut off from future honours those, who would be given them only because of birthright and their place in society, including, of course, members of the royal family.” Chapter 8
- “The freeloading by our future monarch and his wife are not unique to them, it has to be said. On the contrary, it’s all too normal behaviour for the Windsors. There seems to be no limit to what members of the royal family will seek to avoid paying for."
The royal family. The monarchy. Boy heckins, where do we start?
We could begin with the antiquated and wholly preposterous notion that it still exists for one or we could deconstruct its actual role and benefit to the people it actually represents in the 21st Century, for example. Both of these would be tiresome for both you and me and probably better left to those smarter than me and certainly you peasants.
Or you could just say, Oh come on Mark. It’s the Queen. Gord bless you, mum and let me salute over my December Brussels sprouts and so on and so forth. Dwelling on this would also get us nowhere fast. So let’s not.
Instead, let’s talk about a book. Former MP Norman Baker’s ‘...AND WHAT DO YOU DO?’ will suffice. What with it’s revelations, unfettered consequences and dirt flinging from the public gallery of the House of Commons via ourselves, the kneeling subjects often oblivious and cowtowing. Grateful of their presence and ever willing to drop everything to fight in their name.
Well, the Windsors might want to keep us away from the libraries now this gem is out. It’s the sort of stuff you won’t see glamorized on The Crown tv show, let’s put it that way. And I say, The Windsors. But they are really not, are they? They have only been the Windsors since just before the outbreak of the First World War, when they conveniently changed their German name of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Good English name, that.
That’s even before we get into the second conflict and how not only were they sympathetic to Hitler and the Nazis but members of the royal family and the surrounding aristocracy actively aided the Germans against us. Yep, it’s fucked up.
Essentially, the book is a study and deep dive into things like etiquette and protocol and what the hell is up with all the titles, awards and why there is such thing as an official barge master or a sculptor and someone to look after the swans on the ever-sensitive and monstrous payroll. The same payroll, that we the taxpayers provide for them and their ever extending menagerie of freeloaders, many of which you will never have heard of.
Princess Alexandra, anyone? If you don’t know who that is, you might want to Google her and everyone else. Because you are paying for their upkeep. They don’t seem to count for a great deal apart from hoover up public money. The security cost for these non-entities is astonishing. I mean, who on earth is going go out of their way to kidnap Lady Gabriella on her way to the Chelsea Flower Show to the point she has traffic stopped for her en route?
And you didn’t know who that was either, did you?
There are the detailed tax dodges and beneficial schemes all the family members benefit from aside what we give them, not to mention the dubious business contacts and the way they whore themselves and their titles and status to the highest bidder. The same titles and honours they constantly adorn themselves with, without having done anything that constructive or deserving for them.
Ah yes, the whole beloved honours system, carted out twice a year. There are a lot of deserving people who receive them, like charity campaigning war veterans, lollipop ladies who have served 50 plus years and Floella Benjamin. But most of them are a load of corrupt horse shit, fuelled by political favours, donations and those who are best kept quiet, lest they scare the horses.
Jack Straw’s son was recently awarded a CBE for running the EU Remain campaign that was such a massive success, for example. I’ve done plenty of bullshit that also failed. Where’s my fucking award?
It’s a world that exists without self awareness, glass ceilings, conscience or gratitude. And quite frankly, it’s both embarrassing and outrageous. In the last ten years, they have received a massive increase in the public purse strings at a time when the rest of the country saw nothing but austerity. A country with so many children and young families in poverty. Thank you, George Osborne.
I would say they should be ashamed, but that is not a feeling that is programmed into you at all growing up in that sort of environment.
And they do all this with their hand out still, forever claiming poverty, and receiving hundreds of millions from the taxpayer, while benefiting as private individuals at the same time on land ownership and all of the other questionable dealings they have gotten themselves into. All while freezing the wages of the people immediately around them who tend to their every whim. That is until any of them need hush money to keep their awkward secrets, that is.
The upper classes and rich in general, will always get someone to pay for them or freeload, if it means not forking out themselves. Fact. And it doesn’t matter who with either. Prince Andrew and his trips that he can’t remember to pedophile island is just the tip of the iceberg. All of the royals have their dodgy acquaintances who they sponge off. He’s not special, don’t worry.
And the only reason that motherfucker doesn’t sweat is because he has never had to. Prick.
The main argument here though is one of accountability and how they manipulate the law to avoid it. The pageantry and the spectacle and random births and weddings every ten years are all fair and well and what they do for tourism but they cannot decide what they are conceptually. Whether they are a public or private entity and how thus they should both behave and what rule of law they should adhere to. Because at the moment, they just do what ever the fuck they want. There is a reason Donald Trump is so enamoured by them.
This book will challenge the sanity of even the most ardent Union Jack-waving royalists amongst you. And rightly so. For they should be held to more an account than what they currently are. Prince Andrew and his lustful appetite for teenage girls, aside.
Hopefully some of this wasteful nonsense will be straightened out during the two successions we will see in the next decade or two. But then maybe it won’t. Maybe we will just keep letting them get away with their bullshit for the sake of tradition, their reliance on our loyalty and allegiance.
Patriotism only goes so far though. Just ask the French.
Some shocking revelations in this book written by a politician who has access to very many of the activities of members of the royal family. The money they all have access to from us the taxpayers left me appalled.
Having grown up in Australia I find the notion of bowing/curtseying to another human being, regardless of how exceptional they may be, unnatural. And the British Royal Family are far from exceptional. They are, to all intents and purposes, a very ordinary group of people privileged with outrageous wealth and entitlement. This anachronism may have sat well in Medieval times when the largely uneducated masses needed a sense of "magical thinking" around their King/Queen much as the cult of modern celebrity provides distraction and targeted longing for the masses. It's still a teenage dream to marry a handsome prince and live a life of splendid luxury and false entitlement. One has only to look at the hoopla around Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton and before them, Diana and Fergie. The fact that Diana pulled back the curtain to reveal the wizard on the megaphone, seems largely to have been forgotten. So, why do the British Royal Family still exist? Norman Baker makes many persuasive and compelling arguments against their continuing occupation of Buckingham Palace and the fifteen other estates they occupy at the taxpayers' expense but none to explain exactly why they still crowd onto the royal balcony for photo-shoots on occasions of manic hoopla and insane expense, again, paid for by the taxpayers. The increasingly thin argument that they're good for tourism is fast being extinguished by the groaning expense of security occasioned every time Her Majesty wends her way through the streets in her golden carriage. A note of my own here is that when Coronavirus isn't halting industry, the West End actually brings in more money per annum than any other industry in Britain, including the Royal Family. So why, when almost every other Monarchy in Europe has been levelled to "bicycle-riding" and day jobs do the "ribbon-cutting" British Royals still take private jets and live large on the public purse? Baker offers no explanation, but I posit that it's the fairytale fantasy of their existence that continues to grip the imagination. The idea that somehow these people live in a world long swallowed up in the mists of time, a world that has been immortalised in literature and glamourized on film as a misty Avalon where Guinevere is torn between Lancelot and Arthur and knights rescue damsels and parry for the right. Of course, Avalon never worried too much about the hardworking, exhausted servants who kept the tables groaning and the fires lit and the bedsheets spotless and above recrimination. All of which brings me to my bête noire - why is the British Royal Family not using some of the insane wealth they have built up untaxed over centuries to house their own homeless and alleviate the struggles of the average person living under their supposed benevolence? Baker points to no such intervention or concern but rather much scheming and dodging of tax to acquire more and still more unvetted wealth from Duchies that have never been returned to the people. Cornwall, for example. But even Cornwall is on British soil, the Queen's untaxed offshore investments all serve to fatten the exploding coffers of an unelected group of people who sit in the highest office in the land and enjoy a privilege usually reserved for Popes, saviors or Hollywood stars. Saviors they are not. Stars they undoubtedly are. But why? It will be interesting to see how this parasitic institution fares after the present Queen's passing. I would like to think that in that brief window of time before the crown passes from one unelected head to another, the people of Britain reflect on whether or not they want to keep siphoning millions of dollars into this antiquated and largely pointless regime. Update So now the Queen has passed away I can see signs of this rotten institution falling apart. If Elizabeth II cast a glamour over the Royal Family, her demise has ripped away the veil. Charles lacks both the credibility and popularity to maintain the smoke and mirrors illusion of relevance, especially as one of his sons is a mannequin and the other a pirate! Without a beautiful maiden in a tower (Diana, Elizabeth and even notoriously wild-child Margaret) the public has no-one to cheer for or fantasize about rescuing. Even the no-nonsense and much-admired Princess Anne can't counter-balance the fame-junkies and grubby malevolence that headline the British Monarchy. Interesting times in Britain with running strikes and extreme dissatisfaction with the current occupants of No 10 Downing Street. The British need someone in the twin seats of power that they can relate to and if the powers-that-be fail to read the room and help the people they're meant to be serving I fear for the outcome.
Revealing look at how one of Britain's wealthiest families refuses to pay for anything.
It's shocking that rich people who can afford to pay for holidays, jewelry, clothing, cars, etc. feel they're entitled to get these things for free, as "private" gifts. The fact that they will outright ask for what they want from wealthy friends, acquaintances, and rich royalty from the middle east is embarrassing. The givers of these gifts expect to get influence with the right people, and they do.
The British seem to be happy with their royal family, much of the world is fascinated by them. I myself have read many biographies and histories about the Windsors. What I find surprising is that, as public servants, they are not held to the same standard of ethics as any other civil servant or member of government. Look what's happening to Boris Johnson at the moment; he's got nowhere to hide. Simply by declaring something to be "private" the royals can get away with just about anything. There's no accountability, even for crimes, unless the press finds out, and even then the royals can and do have stories suppressed. Considering the heinous behavior of some of the Windsors, this should be unacceptable.
King Charles has whittled down the working members of his family to just a core few. These members of the family will continue their charitable works and diplomatic duties. Hopefully, the extended family will get the message that they are just ordinary people now, and should stop expecting freebies and something for nothing. If they want nice stuff, do what Harry did; go out into the world, and right a book or make documentaries.
Royalty may add a glamour and mystique to the United Kingdom, but it's the non-royal, non-titled, British people who make Britain great, not some spoiled, entitled, people in a palace.
Norman Baker's book should be a must-read for high school and university students, and for any one else already out in the world who thinks the royals are 'value for money'. Never have I read a more damning expose of a rotten and rort-filled system. I was, until reading this book, a mildly supportive subject, with a bit of a leaning toward an Australian and Canadian republic. Now, I am utterly persuaded that the time of royalty has passed and they should be retired to live on their own resources OR they should adhere to the rules of a constitutional monarchy, clearly distinguish between public and private possessions and privileges, and stop ripping off the populace. Baker is never salacious, never gossiping. He puts his case with supporting fact and, where he must make supposition, backs it as well as he can, given the secrecy of the royals about things that should, by rights, be in the public domain. Thoroughly, heartily recommend this book to anyone living in a nation with the Windsors as their head of state.
“In total, the taxpayer pays for a hundred buildings, six thousand rooms and twenty acres of roofs. And of course the Queen owns plenty of private property too, notably Balmoral and Sandringham, both bought with public funds, which also qualify for taxpayer support when they are used for official business.”
Ridiculous, bloated, antiquated, greedy, deluded, shameless parasites, are just seven of the less offensive words I‘d use to sum up the royals. Baker clearly feels along the same lines too. From the perfect quotes used in the epigraphs this book hits the right mood and tone from the very first turn of the page.
Baker has a lot to work with here, from the blatant examples of pro-Nazism from Edward VIII and his American wife (the couple received a gold inscribed wedding gift from Hitler) and the fact that Princess Michael of Kent’s father was a Nazi and fought in WWI against the Allies too, it is almost like shooting fish in a barrel. There is the bizarre and antiquated thing known as the honours system, a number of paedophiles, war criminals and dictators have been given various honours over the years, the likes of Kaiser Wilhelm II, Ceaucescu, Mugabe to the likes of Jimmy Savile and Bishop Peter Ball to name only a few.
“For 2001-11, the civil list was set at £7.9 million for each year. This became £13.7 million in 2011. The first year of Sovereign Grant saw support rise to £31 million in 2012.” But then it continued to rise 2013/14: £36.1 million (up 16.5%), 2014/15: £37.9 million (up 5%) 2015/16: £40.1 million (up 5.5%) 2016/17: £42.8 million (up 7%) 2017/18: £76.1 million (77.8 %), 2018/19: £82.8 million (up 8%).
When factoring in the vast security costs, often for obscure or minor royals “the true cost to the public purse stretches well beyond £300 million a year.”
We see that old Prince Charles alone has 31 medals (for what?) and we learn of his immense hypocrisy in terms of his approach to the environment. His environmental impact from his tax payer subsidised travel alone including his vast entourage and security, puts a clown’s nose on his so called environmental concern.
“It is worth noting that the practice of paying sums to the monarch’s relatives, other than the King’s wife, only started when the present Queen came to the throne in 1952.”
Of course let us not forget the Royal Collection, a public asset, which the palace continues to pocket money from charging the public to see, and only 0.1% of it is ever on a display. Due to the secret and opaque nature it is hard to get an accurate value of its worth, but some estimates say it may be as high as £20 billion.
Then we get the dossier on hapless old Air Miles Andy who is beyond belief and beneath contempt, a repulsive and repugnant parasite with connections and/or business dealings with various dictators, Middle Eastern theocracies, Gaddafi, the Bin ladens and of course old Jeffrey Epstein (In Epstein’s incriminating black book, there was no less than 16 different contact numbers for the royal and 18 for his ex-wife). Among the many sinister and sickening facts around him is that in the ten years to 2011 he cost the taxpayer £4 million, with another £10 million for his police protection. We do know that his mummy gives him £249,000 tax free each year and that he gets £20,000 from a pension, but we don’t know how he and Sarah Ferguson managed to pay for their £13 million ski chalet in Switzerland?...
There are loads of shocking cases in here one dating back in 1962 involved Princess Alexandra (who I admit to having never even heard of) forcing a chartered aircraft she was using for royal duties to divert to Vancouver in order to visit some friends, and then demanded that the tax payer meet all costs, including the clothes she bought herself. The cost of the detour in today’s money was around £200,000 and the outfits around £100,000. The government paid up.
Then there’s the Offshore tax havens, Cash for Access scams, the ever growing unaccountability, Hereditary peerages, immunity from countless laws (not just seat belt wearing and hate speech), exemption from the Freedom of Information Act, the hunting (whilst claiming to be animal welfare advocates), the sneaky lobbying and political interference, the endless freebies, the lecturing people on climate change whilst travelling on private jets with extensive entourages, and using £369 million in order to revamp Buckingham Palace. The list goes on and on.
“The sovereign is not legally liable to pay income tax, capital gains tax or inheritance tax.”
So what all of this is really saying is that the British royal family are above the law. They have been granted impunity. Their very existence puts a giant dildo on the face of Britain’s idea of democracy, fairness and equality. If we were to see a mob of scroungers who ripped off their country to such a degree anywhere else in the world, we would laugh in pity and condescension. They are a sham that no one is ever supposed to speak out on or challenge. We routinely see that even so called sacred institutions like the BBC and every single British government since she came to the throne are all guilty of sickening levels of sycophancy and brown nosing.
It is beyond absurd that the royal family are allowed to get away with what they still get away in the year 2020. There are so many awful things related to them, that it is hard to know where to start. In spite of worsening global warming, a global financial crises they remain immune and are continue to be subsidised and enriched, granting themselves impunity in almost any situation that pleases them, when it pleases them.
Baker makes another wonderful point when he compares the royal set up to the MPs stealing from the tax payer, “For the royals to use civil list money to buy and help amass a private property portfolio is no different: it is fiddling their expenses.”
I am not sure I have shaken my head in disbelief so much during a book as I did reading this. It is way beyond belief what the British royals get away with. There should be no place for this blatant anomaly, which takes far more away from many than it occasionally gives back to the few. The royal family is a bloated farce of a thing, an absurd, extortionate pantomime stuck somewhere between a tedious BBC costume drama and a crap Monty Python sketch complete with the plummy, self-important English accents.
“Members of the royal family are not purely private individuals, however much they might like to try and argue they are. Rather, they are people who hold public positions, just as MPs and members of the House of Lords do, and need to be held to the same rules. A royal family endorsement should not be for sale to the highest bidder.”
I used to have respect for our Queen and the way she has served this country until I read this book. It makes my blood boil the way the royals are ripping off us tax payers and the national purse. They are getting away with not having to pay the same taxes as the rest of us, example, inheritance tax and many other forms of tax. It is really quite scandalous the loop holes they have found and been granted to get away with this, and other dodgy money making projects. Once the Queen goes it's time for a serious review of how the monarchy is funded, and it also needs to be drastically slimmed down if it's to survive.
This is a carefully researched exposure of the greed, the cynicism and the general uselessness of Britain’s royalty. It’s quite jaw dropping to read how the British state panders to them, using every mechanism in their armoury to protect and indeed expand the grotesque privilege they enjoy. Norman Baker also exposes the humbug of royals like Prince Charles and his sons who never miss a chance to leap into a chartered jet to swan around the world. His account of the current life of Prince Andrew is partially entertaining; partially enraging. Well worth the 5 stars.
Contents: Introduction 21 Chapters: And What do You Do? The Name Game, Germany Calling, L’Etat C’est Moi, Heralds Triumph, Doing The Honours, The Powers Behind The Throne, Unequal Before The Law, Where There’s A Will, The Royal Mint, Duchies All Too Original, Costing The Earth, Charity Begins At Home, The Grand Old Duke of Sleaze, The Royal Free, Killer Wales, We Are Not Amused, The Royal Box of Tricks, Weak At The Knees, The Fab Four: Tomorrow Never Knows, On Your Bike Appendix Bibliography Acknowledgements Index
Each chapter could be headed by a Gillray cartoon. Norman Baker is the Gillray equivalent, but his medium is words. Irreverent, but serious. You will gather from the chapter headings that this is no exercise in sycophancy; Henry VIII would have made mincemeat, literally, out of this over-cocky subject. But The Tudors have been dead and buried now for over 400 years.
But the royal show gamely carries on. The times have changed but the trappings of monarchy and accompanying ceremonies and conventions haven't necessarily. Whilst relatively harmless in themselves perhaps (unless you happen to be the octogenarian walking backwards down steps whilst bowing to Majesty), I am not sure that it does a lot for our feelings of national self respect and how we want the world to perceive us? I don't want to live in a gilded museum whose star attraction is a wind-up toy which appears on the hour to wow visitors?
When I began reading this I did not warm to Baker; in fact I found myself the devil’s advocate for Windsor & Co. But by the end of his book I was on his side. He rightly points to lack of transparency as far as this part of our constitution is concerned. This is especially so around financial matters, its influence and privilege. Freedom of Information rarely applies to this bit of the Executive. Its secret workings will remain secret, for as long as people of our ilk and who fund it, are around to ask questions. Why, for instance are the Royal Family's wills sealed, unlike the rest of us. Ours become public property once they are proven. What have They got to hide? (Rhetorical question!) I have never considered myself a republican but reading this through I cannot see why not. The institution must reform or it will die. Worse still it has real potential to be a dangerous tool in the hands of unscrupulous ministers and one which can be used at odds with the public interest.
4* (probably mean of me as “Air Miles Andy”, Baker’s nickname for Prince Andrew, [along with the Prince of Sleaze] is worthy of an extra point).
Norman Baker was M.P. (Liberal Democrat) for Lewes, East Sussex, 1997-2015. Lewes was the home town of Tom Paine, he of “Rights of Man” fame.
Well, this has turned me into a republican! I have always had a soft spot for the Queen but is this only because she never speaks and so I know little about her? Most probably, going by what the book says. I love the fact that she self-isolated at Windsor during the pandemic with only a small circle of servants. This turned out to be about 23! And have you seen the wages she pays them? Possibly even less than the UK minimum wage, but I expect there was a get-out clause in that law for the Royals, as this book demonstrated there was in other onex. I knew that Charles was tight before e.g. wearing really old suits, but the extent of his finances explains so much such as the hidden support provided for Harry and Meghan. Incidentally, the author must be kicking himself that the book was published before Andrew, Harry and Meghan situations changed. An update is needed! Two memorable lines: 'written by loutish lads who prefer women to be obscene and not heard' and 'Harry wants to be both celebrity and victim'. So, so true. Listen to all the pronouncements that he and his wife have made since moving to California. It's a shame that my monarchy-obsessed mother isn't still alive as I would have loved her to read it and then to have discussed it with her. Would it have changed her views of the Royals? I really hope so.
...And What Do You Do? ...by Norman Baker What is the most visited royal palace in Europe? I discovered the answer in And What You Do?, Norman Baker’s excellent book which reveals so much about the queen and the royal family which they’d rather keep quiet. I’ll give you the answer at the end of my review of his book. Last week I went to see a play at the Frinton Summer Theatre. The lights dimmed and I was about to settle down for the action on stage. Instead, the rumble of drums started and everyone stood up as the national anthem was played. It was something I hadn’t experienced since the mid sixties in a London theatre, where as a boy, I followed my socialist father’s lead and remained seated as everyone else in the auditorium stood to attention for God Save The Queen. For it to still be played in 2022 and for people still to deferentially pay their allegiance in a theatre is an interesting phenomenon, particularly following recent scandals which have tested many people’s faith and trust in the royal family. I write pay allegiance because that's what the national anthem is - its words glorify and celebrate the queen, before the country, I thought too - what a coincidence. Here I am reading an eye opener of a book about what the monarchy is really like, and I attend an event where we’re requested to stand up for God Save The Queen. Author Norman Baker would be horrified. He argues in his book that it is time for Britain to have “the self confidence to set aside this magic dust monarchy...it is necessary if Britain is to adjust to life in the twenty first century.” He says it is time for the monarchy to be “of the people, not above them.” That’s his conclusion, after four hundred pages of reasons explaining how he's reached it. One of his major arguments is the amount of public money, our money, given to one of the richest families in the world each year. Out of Europe’s ten remaining monarchies, us Brits hand over the most to our royals - £82 million a year. Norman Baker takes the reader through the history of how previous kings and queens have wheeled and dealed with governments about how much they should get from the treasury, what taxes they should and shouldn’t pay, and what lands they should own. For example, the Crown Estates, a collection of more than seven thousand plots of land across the UK valued at £14.1 billion, is neither Government property or the monarch’s private property but “the sovereign’s public estate,” although Norman Baker writes that the overwhelming view is that the Government owns the lands on behalf of the country. It’s managed commercially and since 1760, the vast profits it makes goes to the Government. However, Norman Baker argues that Prince Charles’ “personal view is that all the income from the crown estates should go to the royals.” In 2018/19, the Crown Estates’ made £250 million. If Charles had his way, that money would be taken from the public purse and given to the richest family in the UK. It was only in 1993 that the Queen started paying some tax “on a voluntary basis.” Norman Baker writes “forty years of a tax free holiday will have been immensely rewarding for the Queen.” What’s more, he adds, Prince Charles intends to agree to continue to pay tax when he is sovereign! Norman Baker tells the reader “regular attempts to nail down the private wealth of the Queen and her family have been consistently rebuffed, on the basis that these are private matters.” However, as the author argues, “if that wealth has in part been created by unique tax breaks to the disadvantage of the public purse, or from simple exploitation of public money, then the private position becomes a public matter.” The book’s sub title is “What the royal family don’t want you to know.” However, there are many things the author Norman Baker says he wasn’t allowed to reveal, because they’re kept secret including both Princess Margaret’s and the Queen Mother’s wills. In Margaret’s case, a man claiming to be her illegitimate son brought legal action to try to force her will to be opened as he thought it might throw some light on his claim. He failed. Norman Baker reveals that both hers and the Queen Mother’s will were sealed at a secret hearing by a high court judge. The others at the hearing were the Queen and the attorney general. As the author explains, “the sealing of the wills, and the secrecy of the hearing, were supported by, perhaps driven by the Queen herself.” He asks why? Could it be that they didn’t want it known how much each of them had accrued in their lifetimes, “without seemingly having any external means to do so.” He estimates that Margaret left an estate of £7.6 million, having passed on before she died assets including a house on Mustique to the value of £12 million. As for the Queen Mum, Norman Baker says the rumours were £70 million and what was left after her rumoured racing debts were cleared, was given to the Queen, free of inheritance tax, which the Queen doesn’t have to pay! Norman Baker maintains that we taxpayers, who paid millions to each of them in the civil list, have a right to be told what was in their wills. Every other Briton’s will can be scrutinised - why he asks should members of the royal family be above the law? He also reveals that when the Freedom of Information Act was updated in 2010, the Queen, Prince Charles and Prince William became exempt from it. Norman Baker writes that “the Palace lobbied hard for the changes” and found in Labour minister Jack Straw an open door. He asks why the monarchy wanted information about them to be kept from the public. He says it’s because Prince Charles had realised that his several “interventions” on Government plans and policy were beginning to leak out, and with the change in the Freedom Of Information Act, he would be free to write and speak to Government ministers about public matters concerning him and no one would ever know. It’s clearly wrong, argues Norman Baker, as the Freedom of Information Act is supposed to empower the citizen. He then reveals that Prince Charles “has been regularly receiving red boxes full of confidential papers since 1992.” He says our constitution relies on the monarch and members of the royal family staying out of politics, but says Charles “has pushed the constitutional envelope as far as it will go.” He says if Charles finds the constitutional requirements too onerous, “he can always absent himself from the line of succession and become a normal citizen.” Prince Charles gave warnings about climate change and its effect on the environment many years ago. His two sons have also publicly spoken about the need to alter our lives to cut emissions. However, Norman Baker reveals that in practice, their actions are far from environmentally responsible. He finds that Charles “took thirteen staff with him to the Commonwealth Games in Queensland,” costing the taxpayer £155,000 just in transport. Among the staff was a yeoman, “involved in choosing Charles’ clothes.” In January 2020 when he met the campaigner Greta Thornberg in Davos, “he had clocked up 16,000 miles in private jets in the fortnight before....estimated to have resulted in 162 tonnes of carbon emissions” and costing “the taxpayer £280,000.” The author says that private jets are Charles’ default option as he vowed not to use British Airways, “declaring their first class seats deeply uncomfortable.” He writes pages on Prince Andrew's treatment of the environment. Here are some other facts I was unaware of and thank the author for his meticulous research and for publishing them: • There are 98 Lord Lieutenants around the country representing the Queen. All are unelected. Males outnumber females by two to one. None are under 50. Norman Baker was told he couldn’t be given their ethnicity as it would breach the Data Protection Act. Nineteen have been to Eton, and fourteen to other public schools. The author managed to find out in 2000 that the cost of them was £686,173. That was more than twenty years ago. When he tried to get updated figures, he was told they “were not collected centrally. The clang from the gates of secrecy closing firmly shut is unmistakeable.” • Prince Charles has thirty one decorations he could wear. They include a four star rank in each of the armed forces. Norman Baker writes “the Queen has been particularly keen to shower members of her family with decorations, and they seem to have been particularly keen to receive them.” • The Spanish, Dutch and Danish monarchs each have two palaces. “Our royal family manages to occupy fifteen state residences,” Norman Baker writes. The fifteen don’t include Balmoral and Sandringham. • The Duchy of Lancaster is made up of “45,601 acres of prime agricultural land, most of the Lancashire coast, a golf course in south Wales, some property in Lewes, and most profitable of all, the Savoy estate in central London,” Norman Baker states. Its ownership passes from monarch to monarch. He says “its holdings are now worth £533.8 million,” and in 2018 “it produced a profit for the Queen of just over £20 million. She pays no corporation tax on the duchy. Norman Baker argues that the duchy is a public asset and its profits should go into the public purse –“for the monarch to keep them is royal robbery,” he says. • The Duchy of Cornwall is owned by the oldest son of the monarch, Prince Charles. Its land includes a third of Dartmoor, 160 miles of coastline, rivers, residential and commercial properties including the Oval cricket ground. Norman Baker writes,”the income from the Duchy of Cornwall is exempt from all taxes.” Similarly to the Duchy of Lancaster, he argues that the Duchy of Cornwall “lands are public...with income going to the Treasury.” But, he says, if they are private, “then all the unique benefits ...including tax exemptions...should cease to apply and the estate should be treated like any other.” • Under company law, when a company is dissolved, its property goes to the Crown. But Norman Baker has discovered that if the business is located in the Duchy of Lancaster (the private estate of the Queen) or the Duchy of Cornwall (Charles’ private estate), “the remaining assets would go straight to the Queen or Princes Charles, giving a windfall income.” • Prince Philip was spotted two days after his crash near Sandringham in 2019, in which he pulled out in front of a car on the A149 causing injuries to the other car’s occupants, driving on a public road without a seat belt. The Queen was in the car also not wearing a seatbelt. Neither was fined or received points. The trouble is, as Norman Baker points out, “that all legal action is taken in her name. You cannot have Regina v Regina,” so the Queen can’t be prosecuted. • Neither could points ever be put on the Queen’s licence because the Queen has never taken a driving test. Norman Baker states, she “is the only person in the country allowed to drive without a licence.” • Prime Minister Theresa May gave £359 million of taxpayers’ money for maintenance to Buckingham Palace and the other palaces. But, as Norman Baker observes, “the Palace continues to pocket all the lucrative stream of entrance fees to the building, to other royal palaces and to the royal collection.” Between 2012 and 2017 that amounted to £181million. • The author bemoans the amount of public money spent on refurbishment every time a royal moves. For example when Charles moved into Clarence House following the queen mother’s death, “over £3 million of taxpayers’ money was used to bring the interior up to a standard he deemed appropriate.” He contributed £78,000. Norman Baker also questions why the taxpayer had to pay £3 million to refurbish Frogmore Cottage when Harry and Meghan decided they didn’t want to live next door to his brother William and Kate at Kensington Palace. He argues, “given that Harry has amassed at least £20 million in terms of personal wealth, why could he not pay for this relocation?” • 450 personnel are employed to protect the royal family. Norman Baker says the cost is never published but the annual bill is estimated at beyond £100 million. He writes that taxpayers are entitled to query whether minor royals need “the routine and expensive protection.” For example the cost of protecting Prince Edward in his massive Bagshot Park is thought to be £1 million a year. There is round the clock protection for minors like Princess Alexandra amounting to twelve full time officers. He points out the lack of consistency – Zara Tindall and Peter Phillips have no security protection whereas Eugenie and Beatrice do. The author also points out that Prince Philip often used to drive around London in his black cab without outriders. • There’s a whole chapter dedicated to Prince Andrew, titled The Grand Old Duke Of Sleaze. There are nuggets of information I’d not come across before – that when he was Special Representative for Trade and Investment, he had six staff travelling with him including a valet carrying his six feet long ironing board! He preferred to take a private jet to visit Azerbaijan and back, despite there being daily commercial flights. It cost the taxpayer £60,000. It’s questionable whether Andrew gave a good impression of Britain on his foreign jaunts. Norman Baker reveals a speech Andrew gave at a lunch in Kyrgyzstan “in which he slagged off France as corrupt and, in the presence of the US representative, asserted that Americans ‘don’t understand geography. Never have. In the UK we have the best geography teachers in the world.’” • Despite their enormous wealth, Norman Baker describes in one chapter how some of the royals lap up the freebies. William and Kate for example stayed for free at a villa on Mustique owned by a clothing tycoon. They followed that with another free use of another villa on the island owned by a hedge fund millionaire. That was followed by another free villa holiday on the same island owned by a Venezuelan millionaire and Kate’s family joined them. Charles and Camilla have been at it too in the Mediterranean, Norman Baker reveals, “relaxing on a luxury yacht” owned by a banker. The most jaw dropping revelation involved Princess Michael of Kent. She “saw an ivory bear in the window of a London jeweller’s and on impulse walked in and unashamedly asked for it to be given to her.” The shop agreed! • The author argues that such outrageous behaviour shows the attitude the royals have of us and them. He cites the example of Princess Margaret who was presented with a gift of a giant “basket of bubble baths, perfumes and oils, so enormous that it took two people to carry it.” She didn’t want it so ordered her staff to take it back to Crabtree and Evelyn’s shop in Kensington and demand a cash refund. Though they’ve a policy of a credit note for returned gifts, “she got the cash she wanted.” Norman Baker says “the pervasive culture within the royal family of accepting freebies and exploiting the royal name for personal gain clearly violates” the two tests of selflessness and integrity which have been laid out by the Committee on Standards in Public Life. He says public officials in any other sector who behaved like the royals would be disciplined, sacked or prosecuted. • Norman Baker broaches what for many royal fans is a given – that the queen mum was one of us during the second world war, visiting bombed out families in east London and staying in the capital during the blitz. “In reality,” he writes, “she did little to hide her contempt for them. She was rather mocking, not very kind, according to the wife of the British ambassador in Paris. She would make fun of people who rhymed Ma’am with harm, rather than with spam.” I’d read in the newspapers more than thirty years ago the expose of her cousin Katherine Bowes-Lyon, who, with her sister Nerissa, “were dispatched one dark day in 1941 to a home for people with learning disabilities.” Three other second cousins to the queen mother were also “packed off to the same institution that day as an unwanted job lot.” Norman Baker writes that it was never revealed who or why it was decided they should become “non-persons,” and rather alarmingly discovers that Burke’s Peerage was given what appears to be deliberately wrong information claiming Nerissa had died a year before she went into the home and Katherine’s death in 1961. The truth he says is that Nerissa lived till 1986 and Katherine till 2014! Nerissa was given a pauper’s funeral and her death announced not be Buckingham Palace but by the local NHS trust. The author tells us that not once did the queen mother visit the pair, nor despite her wealth and life of luxury, did she “provide her nieces with the most basic essentials.” Until 2002 he says, “the royal family didn’t even provide Katherine with her own underwear.” It is truly shocking and left me reflecting on the royal family’s level of care or thought for others. This example shows their complete rejection of their own family members. What sort of feeling, if any, do they have for their subjects – us the British people? It makes me wonder. • Norman Baker questions the attitude of the royal family to the press, in particular William and Harry who he says are bitter towards journalists, blaming them for hounding their mother. But quite rightly, he points out how the press lap up the photographs which are released of baby and child royals and how the fawning press goes over the top in giving pages and pages to royal births and other royal events. He says it’s a canny operation by the royal family – “the Palace will make sure the captive media has just the photos it wants them to have at just the right time.” Throughout the book the author is respectful of most of the actual people in the royal family, though it's clear from his arguments that he's questioning of their character and motives, more for some than for others. Despite his book detailing the shortcomings, the injustice, the vast expense to the public purse, the inequality in law, I get the feeling that Norman Baker is resigned to the fact that the monarchy is going to be with us for some years yet. There’s a feeling of exasperation in the author wondering why, having discovered all this, the great British public don’t call time on them. He ends his tome by asking us to pull the curtain back to dispel the illusion and reveal the unwelcome truth....and then begin a new chapter in our nation’s history. Whether you're a royalist, a sceptic or a Republican, this book will open your eyes and give you something most of the press fails to - the real facts of the monarchy. ...and the palace in Europe most visited by tourists? Versailles and France did away with its monarchy in 1792!
This should be a must read for British citizens. Nothing I even suspected about our Royal family is as bad what I found out about them. Page after page of shameless, immoral, greedy behaviour from an undeserving family of no known talent or ability who protect their immense privileges like .. well, like the Crown Jewels. Read about their huge tax dodges, the free flights, the millions spent on refurbishments, many more millions on valets, drivers, security staff, kennel keepers and thousands of other go-fetch-its - at the tax payers expense. Baker keeps the revelations coming, two or more to the page until you think there can’t be more to come, but there is. He concludes the book with an extensive bibliography should you want to dig in further though the nearly incredible fact is that all these things are previously known about and have been published. So, the first begged question is, why do so many British subjects still support them and what they represent. The second question is obviously how long have they got left.
This is a meticulously researched analysis of the history and role of the British royal family. Norman Baker has clearly done an inordinate amount of research for this essential dissection of the antiquated vagaries of the British monarchical system and its abuse of privilege. Sometimes opinion is misleadingly put across as fact, but it is an invaluable counterbalance to the prevailing sycophantic adoration of royalty in Britain by the establishment.
This is a no holds barred vivisection of the royal family. I have to say that it did leave me with a bad taste in my mouth. And yet, I would still prefer a monarchy (albeit a very slimmed down one) to a republic.
I thought it would be fun to read a Liberal Democrat MP's critique of the British Royal Family as an American royalist. It was not fun. This book lacks clear republican philosophy. There is no strong critique in the book. Instead, it's a collection of disorganized frustrations about British life written by a middle-aged man.
To start, the first real chapter critiques the sexism of last names in the British family and the Nazi ties. Those 2 things should not be in the same chapter. Additionally, while Baker lays out the sexism of last names (bringing up rape of the Queen in 2 paragraphs which should have been cut) he never actually questions or calls out the sexism. He never explains why it's sexist the Queen hyphenated her last name in her private life but not her public life. Nor does he adequately explain why royalists should be mad about this, he simply states it like we're all supposed to be wowed and say yes, how horrible she hyphenated her name!
There is so much to discuss with last names. Is the feminist answer it's her choice? Is she socially pressured into thinking she needs to take her husband's name? Why was Churchill the main objector? Why is Prince Harry the only descendant of QE2 who uses the hyphenated last name? Personally, I think the hyphenated last name is the best example of the paradox of the Queen's role as a head of state but not the head of her household - letting Phillip make many of the marriage decisions, Phillip who had an ego about a fake last name. Is that a Republican argument? Yes, if the author had explained the capriciousness of the royal family and how capriciousness + sexism can happen with small things (hyphenated instead of Phillip taking the Queen's last name) and large things (Prince Andrew). But the author never skewers anyone. That's limp dick!!! Call Philip out for not having the balls to take his wife's last name and for the Queen not being a feminist icon in forcing him. Churchill knew it!
I thought the Nazi section was good but should have had its own chapter. Additionally, it could have been further fleshed out to explain Queen Mary's sympathies with the French puppet state. There's some good shit here! Why it's with the last name section is a bad editing choice.
Sidenote: the author says George V could have saved the Romanoffs, but fails to mention the King consulted Parliament and weighed the Romanoffs popularity with the Cabinet and his familial ties. If the author is trying to make a Republican argument, this should be taken to its next logical conclusion - sometimes the monarch makes decisions that hurt their family to hold on to power. If that's supposed to make me think George V is a monster and I want to abolish the monarchy, it doesn't. I think he made the right call as the Bolsheviks would have assassinated the Tsar at the border, better to not piss off the Cabinet. The author doesn't offer any Republican arguments on why it is bad the Queen is willing to hurt her family for power, probably because most MPs do the same.
The writings about the National anthem not being played at sporting games and the naturalization test being harder than what UK-born citizens could pass are both very common editorials we see in the USA too. So what? This is where a strong Republican argument needed to be made first. Make the argument that the UK should be established in democratic ideals and should have a unifying national anthem in support of that. Because as an outsider, I see nothing wrong with Scotland playing their own Scottish anthem at football games. Maybe if Baker was writing for his local Sunday newspaper in England, these arguments would land well. But as an outsider, I need more information on why it's offensive not everyone plays the same anthem at the sporting event when Scotland and England have their own football teams.
Then we get into honors and this could be a good skewering of the Queen's narcissisim or coddling of her children and their narcissism or spoildness. Instead, limp dick again! Baker can't bring himself to ever actually critique anyone whose alive (but it's definitely George V's fault the Tsar died according to Baker, no one would have shot him on the trip from Siberia!). Personally, I think the continual military honors is laughable but what's worse is people like Prince Andrew and Prince Harry making a stink when they get theirs stripped for (a) everything Andrew's done and (b) leaving the BRF. I was waiting for a good smackdown of them and it never came.
Also, I think it's confusing to include the (not) critique of the Queen for her over-medaling of her kids in the same chapter as Parliment and Prime Minister abusing the honors system. I get why, Margaret Thatcher abused the honor system to get her son a title so there's a link about "mother's, am I right?" but I think these are separate critiques since one is related to the military and the other is related to the peerage. Also the author fails to mention how limiting the honor system or medal system could happen. Could Parliament limit the Queen (yes) and could it limit itself (yes). But we can't have accountability or actual critique, so Baker just moves on to listing more things.
The thing that broke me was Baker complaining his FOIA request didn't get special treatment because he's an MP. I thought democracy meant people were equal? At this point I realized Baker is not going to offer any anti-monarchist philosophy in support of democracy. He's just a dude yelling into the wind about Scotland having a better football anthem.
Wow, definitely written by a republican (of the British type) and highly critical of the over-privileged family that i find completely irrelevant to modern British life and would welcome seeing the back of.
I'm not talking bloody revolution and i think a good start would be to completely slim down the family and for them all to get proper jobs to pay for their own livestyles like the rest of us have to.
It irks me that the military (and other organisations) and MPs have to swear allegiance to the Queen and not to the country. In the 21st century i find astonishing that a head of state has that position because... well, God. And recently the arguments that monarchists give me for keeping the monarchy - which generally boils down to tradition, God, tourists and that they are a final check that democracy is preserved* - have all been shown to be tosh.
People say to me "but without the monarchy we'd have something like President Blair!". To which my answer is: only if you vote for him. What about Tanni Grey-Thompson? Betty Boothroyd? Floella Benjamin? (all currently life Peers serving in the House of Lords, I think). There would be nothing stopping, say, Princess Anne announcing her candidacy as presidential hopeful. I might even vote for her if she did.
I'll be interested to see if he writes any sort of follow-up now Harry and Meghan have resigned.
*Anyone who followed the 2019 prorogation of the British Parliament finally knows that the Queen does absoutely bugger all in that direction. And tbh, I'm not comfortable with her having any sort of power over elected politicians anyway.
While I am an "All Things Diana" gal, I am not necessarily and great fan of the rest of the royal family. I know that there are always two sides to every story, but this book seems to have been VERY will researched, as shown by the 5 or 6 pages of single spaced bibliography in the back. And let me tell you, this book is NOT flattering for the royal family!! In fact, if the British public is aware of even half of the lies, cheating, scheming and financial "theft" that the royals are accused of in this book, I am not sure why the put up with having a royal family. But then, I guess the same could be said for US politicians, so who am I to talk? Anyway, this book is VERY eye opening, no matter if you are a royal fan or not. I would highly recommend this book to any history lover. It is well written, funny at times, mostly embarrassing for the royals, easy to read and never dull. Well done, Mr. Baker, well done!
I found this book when #AbolishTheMonarchy was trending on Twitter... I've always been ambivalent about the royal family, but after reading this book, I'm horrified! Prince Andrew has now brought the Monarchy into international disrepute, but we must not forget how another paedophile was publicly supported by the Queen and Prince Charles previously. This book has definitely given me a truly terrible perspective, especially as a tax payer!
I have finished reading “And What Do You Do?: What the Royal Family Don’t Want you to Know” by Norman Baker.
Norman Baker was the Liberal Democrat MP in UK Parliament for Lewes between 1997-2015.
This is an investigative account into the British Monarchy, warts and all with emphasis on the warts. The style of the book is revealed in an amusing but matter of fact encounter with the Queen the author had during a previous visit to his former constituency. This clever and disarming start makes one consider how personable and in touch with our lives the members of the British Monarchy actually are.
The dirty laundry is plainly and candidly laid out, with convincing research backing it up. Undemocratic principles notwithstanding, there is a lot to be concerned about. The British Monarchy is the most expensive in Europe. It is likely also the most unaccountable in Europe. Most Royals use public money with spectacular disregard for the feelings of taxpayers, including minor Royalty whom elsewhere in Europe would have normal jobs.
Norman Baker did painstaking research to find out the more obscure parts of the institution. Heard of the College of Heralds? Me neither, but you will hear about it exhaustively in here. The origins of the Duchies and the Crown Estates are also reflected on, revealing decades of negotiation and chicanery between the British Monarchy and Parliament over the status of these.
The character portraits of the Royals themselves are to be honest, unflattering to say the least. But since they are backed up by facts I would not call it a hatchet job. But this is fundamental to understanding why the Monarchy operates as it does, it is shaped by those within it and there has been insufficient attempts at keeping it accountable from Parliament to stop the institution growing seemingly without limit.
Overall; I believe this is book is clever, entertaining, important and cleverly persuasive. Anyone republican minded can write an angry screed against the British Monarchy but fail to convince. This book has strong feeling behind it, namely a distaste for unaccountability and snobbery. But the end of the book is not as predictable as one would expect. The case is restated, but the author (a bit disappointingly for my republican self) does not present it as a binary choice between status quo or republic. The choice of a more slimmed down model in the European style is put forward. For myself this is insufficient, but I hate to admit that it may be more palatable for British voters. However, one could argue that once the barriers of secrecy and unaccountability are brought down then perhaps British voters may be less sentimental about keeping the institution. The British people in many instances seems to be learning to question certain national myths and histories, in the future the monarchy may not be immune to this.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
This book is a bit drier than most royal books. It’s not a gossipy tell-all. But it’s more damaging because of that, in my opinion. Reading the details of the royals’ finances and wills, their influence on legislation, their influence over the press - it’s actually pretty disturbing.
My one big issue is that the author did NOT do his research when it comes to Harry and Meghan. For example, he states that Apt 1 at Kensington was almost complete when H&M announced they were moving to Frogmore. This is false. They chose Frogmore because it was going to be ready SOONER than KP and were never officially scheduled to live in KP. Likewise he states that their stay in Canada on Victoria island was meant to be a “permanent home” when that was never the case, it was a house they rented from a friend and was ALWAYS going to be temporary. He also recites a lot of tabloid gossip about them like gospel truth, which was disappointing. He’s harsh towards Harry in general, but seems sympathetic to Meghan and discusses the racism she faced and how someone as dynamic and charismatic as her was never going to be a good fit for the staid, old fashioned, conservative royals.
There were a few digs at William and Kate but I definitely got the vibe he was holding himself back. For example, he drags all members of the royal family for their use of private planes and helicopters - except for Will and Kate. He only mentions their use of private planes in the context of Will’s love of freebies, even though they regularly travel by helicopter. The total lack of discussion of them in this chapter made me think whole parts were removed, considering how freely he discusses the other royals, including Charles.
Overall I recommend it, there are some slight issues as noted above but it’s definitely a good read.
The monarchy was basically invented in the Middle Ages, when patronage by the King was actual payment in kind for providing knights, money for campaigns, etc - and of course, good old disgrace and favouritism too. Several hundred years later, this relic of the feudal system creaks on, but it’s far from dead yet. In a democratic republic, the Head of State is elected and can be removed. Even the few remaining European monarchies are much reduced, with some state support for actually doing their “job” but no more. And here? We have an ever-expanding payroll of people who have done absolutely nothing to justify their pampered lifestyle except exist, but we supinely keep wheeling them out … for what? Norman Baker’s very readable book shines an uncomfortable light on how we are essentially allowing ourselves to be conned by this venal shower of freeloaders. Servility seems to be a disease peculiar to the English. I don’t think the Scots or Welsh suffer from it quite so badly. When the present Queen shuffles off this mortal coil, to appropriate Oliver Cromwell’s exasperated saying “You have sat too long. In the name of God, go!”
This retired Canadian politics reporter began reading Mr. Baker's book from the position of a deeply-felt devotee of royal England - the font of modern democracy - and an informed scribbler in defence of the "royal magic" so long believed to undergird the Commonwealth family of nations in defence against the acrid, even evil modern cynicism that poisons politics as it is practised so fouly today in the so-called "great democracies." No more! I believe The Queen shall be the last and best of heriditary monarchs. Her descendants can only disappoint, after her death. While republicanism in the American model -especially since G. W. Bush and the latest felon, Mr. Trump - has proved itself a corrupt and failed model, I take away from this outstanding read a hope for some other arrangements that might advance and dignify The Art of The Possible for the nations of the world. The House of Windsor may well serve as a worthwhile lesson in governance, to be remembered and referenced by future free countries.
Fascinating and detailed review of the finances and other activities of the Royal Family, by Norman Baker, himself a member of the Privy Council. It’s certainly possible to discern which members of the Royal Family work hard. I think the life of the senior royals is very largely unenviable. The system of financing the Royals looks to be in need of an overhaul and modernisation. I am sure the younger Royals would agree. I applaud The Duke of Cambridge for ensuring there is no ivory at Kensington Palace. An interesting and broad ranging look at the Royal Family.
Let me begin with a word of caution. In order to fully understand and appreciate the book, you ought to be a British citizen, or at the least, know enough about the workings of the country. If that is not the case, you shall find yourself lost in the plethora of caustic information that gets splayed page after page in this biting account that tears down the rosy curtains around the British Royals and shows them for what they truly are.
I don't know how much of the adulation that the Royals receive is their doing, and how much is blind adulation on the part of the population that just wants to stay in the nineteenth century and be subjects to their darling Queen and her family. If this book, that details even the most minor of indiscretions (read disregard for the support staff that includes insufficient payments) to the devastating major ones (Nazi leanings, gross misuse of public taxes) can't bring the British common man to his senses, I don't know what can.
The author has remained largely impartial in his narration of the various offenses of the Royal family, save for a bit towards the end where he endorses a recent addition's (now not a part of the family) independence. It is his steady voice that gives the book credibility, not turning it into a rant.
As a person who stays thousands of miles away from the country which milks its people to fund the lavish lifestyles of its Royals, I can read the book, toss it away with information stored carefully into the recesses of my mind, and watch the next season of The Crown bearing in mind that whoever might be painted as the villain, ultimately they are all a bunch of thieves. But how long until a British citizen starts thinking on those lines and stops gushing over the next Royal wedding or birth, or worse, enters into battles over the social media on who slighted whom and who is the victim vs the perpetrator?