Skip to main content /POLITICS

AIRS: Weeknights 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT
In the Crossfire

Royals a luxury Britain can no longer afford?

(CNN) -- Five years after the death of Princess Diana, the British monarchy appears to be on sounder footing than it was in the days after her fatal car crash. The royal family initially received harsh criticism from the British press and people for its handling of Diana's death.

The recent Golden Jubilee celebrations marking 50 years of Elizabeth II's reign seem to show that the queen enjoys the respect of her subjects. But embarrassing revelations about the House of Windsor in recent years have raised questions about the relevancy of a royal family in modern Britain.

Free-lance journalist and former London Daily Express reporter Christopher Sylvester and Julian Borger, U.S. correspondent for The Guardian, step into the "Crossfire" with hosts Tucker Carlson and James Carville to debate the monarchy issue.

CARLSON: Mr. Sylvester ... I want to read you a quote from January by Jonathan Freedland at The Guardian. This sort of sums up my suspicions about the monarchy.

He says, "Imagine getting on a jet and hearing the pilot say, `I do not, in fact, have a pilot's license. But my father had quite a good record.' "

Isn't it true that meritocracy, as in the United States, elevates the best to the top, whereas a monarchy elevates people with pronounced genetic problems?

SYLVESTER: That is certainly true. But that does not invalidate the institution of the monarchy. The whole point of the monarchy is that it operates in a world that is slightly different from the world in which the rest of us operate. And there's nothing wrong with that.

I think that is precisely the reason why people still actually have a resonance with the monarchy, still revere a monarchy. They don't necessarily want it to be like a meritocracy or a democracy. They want it to operate according to different rules. And I think there's nothing wrong with that.

CARLSON: I can see that point -- except this monarchy appears to be operating by the very same rules. Everybody's screwed up and drunk and getting divorced and has embarrassing relationships and drug problems and winds up on the front page of all your newspapers. They're very much like ordinary messed up people, not just royal messed up people.

SYLVESTER: Yes, but the difference between the English monarchy, and let us say, an American president, is that we get to keep them. They're here for the long term. And whether we like it or not, with their deficiencies and their virtues, they are a part of our lives throughout our lives as long as we retain a monarchy.

And I think that is one of the great virtues of having a monarchy, that we don't simply chop and change all the time. You could argue that this is a deficiency, that we should be able ... to eject them if we so wished.

But it so happens that thus far we haven't chosen to do so. And there is no indication ... that there is a desire to eject the British monarchy from its current position.

CARVILLE: ... You have the Windsor woman over there. She seems harmless enough to me. And if I go to [her] London office there, I kind of like it. It's a nice palace and everything. They give her an apartment in there and let her go around. What's the problem with that?

BORGER: I've got nothing against her personally, but I just don't see why we should be paying $50 million a year to one of the richest women on the planet, one of the richest people on the planet, whose wealth is really obscene in terms of what the average Briton makes. I don't understand why we continue to pay for something like that.

CARVILLE: You know if they pared back what they paid her or something and just kind of let them go around and open up buildings or go to funerals or whatever the hell they do, it would be fine with you?

BORGER: No, not altogether because I think there's a principle involved here. I mean, if you look at the United States -- what's the underlying principle under your society? It's the Declaration of Independence -- all men are created equal, with certain inalienable rights.

What's our underlying principle? The royal family -- it means that if you were born into a certain family, you get to keep a lot of money, and we pay you more every year. That's not a very inspiring principle on which to build a nation.

CARVILLE: But they don't have any power. And to Americans they're kind of entertaining. They're kind of Euro trash. ... They're kind of entertaining.

BORGER: So why are we paying them to do it?

CARVILLE: That's your problem. But they're entertaining enough people.

CARLSON: Mr. Sylvester, one of the things that makes me a little nervous about the British monarchy is how seriously it's taken by people within England.

To give you one example, among many, Francis Kidd, who is the mother of the late Princess Diana, gave an interview. It came out [Friday and] said that when her daughter died, she was not allowed, ordered by the government, not to tell anybody for an hour -- during which time heads of state were told.

I'm thinking here, if Britney Spears were killed in an car accident, would President Bush say to her parents, "You can't tell anybody until I call Vladimir Putin"? No. I mean, does that? Do you see what I mean?

SYLVESTER: You're absolutely right.


SYLVESTER: No, it doesn't make me uncomfortable at all. I'm certainly not -- God, I don't mind about that at all. And when I hear Mr. Borger, you know, whining on about the fact that the royal family happens to be rich ..., I have to say I'm utterly cynical about his position.

Because the fact is that although the royal family of Great Britain has inherited, and will continue to inherit a substantial fortune, there is a very limited way in which it can dispose of that fortune. It can't simply sort of fritter it away on all sorts of luxuries. I mean, it has luxuries, endless luxuries anyway.

But it's not as if this money is simply sort of being irresponsibly kind of frittered away. Most of it is embodied in institutions and buildings and things that are part of the national fabric. And indeed employ a large number of people.

... So I simply find the argument that the monarchy is expensive or costly or extravagant utterly ridiculous.

CARLSON: So, Mr. Borger, the argument appears to be -- they have more money than they can spend. So it's not bad to give them more because they can't really spend it?

BORGER: That's right. And because their luxuries are absolutely necessary for the rest of the country to enjoy.




Back to the top