First up we have Graham Smith’s ‘Abolish the Monarchy: Why we should and how we will’ (Penguin Random House, 2023; £16.99). Don’t be put off by the endorsement by Owen Jones.
An enormous amount of painstaking research has gone into this book. Smith starts with the perennial question from monarchists: ‘But what about tourism?’ Quoting research by VisitBritain, the UK’s leading tourism body, Smith shows that, for example, ‘the evidence points to royal weddings having a negative impact on tourism’. The most optimistic figure that anyone has offered as a measure of the monarch’s impact on tourism is £500 million, but as he points out, even if that figure is true (and there are serious doubts) it represents only 0.01 percent of the total economy. Furthermore, the evidence is that the Royals’ involvement in UK charities makes almost no difference to charity income.
Having demonstrated that the royals are not a generator of income, Smith goes on to look at the myth of hard-working royals. To cut a long story short, he quotes Prince Charles’s former press officer admitting in 2005
“The Windsors are very good at working three days a week, five months of the year and making it look as if they work hard”.
What about the monarch’s role as ‘Defender of the Constitution’? If you think it right and proper that the monarch has a passive, impotent role, and if the monarch always has to act on the advice of the prime minister, then the monarch is constitutionally bound to take instructions from the head of government – even when instructed to do something unconstitutional (as witness the prorogation scandal late in 2019).
Republic, a pressure group of which Smith is CEO, estimates the cost of the monarchy to the British taxpayer to be in excess of £345 million a year – enough public money to pay for some 13,000 new nurses or teachers. Simple question: what do you think is more socially useful – countless new teachers or nurses, or a king? Also, as a country, we pay Charles a private income in excess of £22 million a year – and that’s before the recent £45 million hike in pocket money; William, too, now that he’s Duke of Cornwall. That’s roughly six times the combined salary of all democratic heads of state in Europe. The story continues via the following ominous sub-sections: ‘Tax Avoidance’. ‘Lobbying and Secrecy’, ‘Petulant Princes’, ‘Political princes’ and ‘Not people we would vote for’.
In conclusion, the monarchy is costly, contributes very little to the economy and is a constitutional oddity.
As Smith says, he doesn’t wish to oversimplify, but to abolish the monarchy all you need is for Parliament to draw up a new draft constitution and put it to a referendum. Simples? Well, perhaps not, given the way the media in general and the BBC in particular grovel to the Establishment, but certainly worth making an effort. Your reviewer has joined Republic on the strength of this book.
Rating: five stars. Buy it and lend it to anyone who looks like a potential convert.
Read on … this time with Rob Burley’s ‘Why is this lying bastard lying to me?’ (Mudlark, 2023; also £16.99).
As the subtitle says, this is about ‘Searching for the truth on political TV’. He discusses why politicians are sometimes less than truthful in interviews. The reason, fairly obviously, is that they are trying to hide something or have not properly thought things through. He deals with (and quotes from) interviews with inter alia Macmillan, Thatcher, Kinnock, Blair, Gove, Howard, Ashdown and Brown. The interviewers he focuses on are Robin Day, Brian Walden, Jeremy Paxman, Andrew Neil and Andrew Marr. He clearly prefers the last two, and Neil returns the favour with an endorsement on the back cover. Burley has spent his entire working life in TV and a lot of his anecdotes will be lost on that vanishingly tiny proportion of the public who have not worked there. Lengthier extracts from interviews with lying bastards would have been more entertaining.
Nevertheless, it is a mildly amusing stroll through recent(ish) British history, and I will give it a generous three-star rating.
Alastair Campbell’s latest work is ‘But What Can I Do?’ subtitled ‘Why Politics has gone so wrong and how you can help fix it’ (Penguin Random House, 2023; £22).
The first part ‘Where did it all go wrong’ discusses what Campbell calls “the three Ps”: Polarisation, Populism and Post truth (and the uses of lying). It gives the impression of being intended for political scientists rather than young campaigners, and even the political scientists might get fed up with the name-dropping.
Part two is much more useful for campaigners, with chapters whose titles seem redolent of ‘Scouting for Boys’ such as ‘Resist cynicism’, ‘Develop a campaigning mindset’, ‘Be a team player’ and ‘Acquire persevilience’ (an interesting portmanteau word formed from ‘perseverance’ and ‘resilience’). Fair enough, but there is no need for would-be campaigners to read the entire book. Better just to look at the summarised action points in each chapter.
If, as we should, we want to energise young people to start campaigning, the way to do it is to keep it short and to the point. And avoid mentioning your partner and children at every available opportunity. They may be paragons of virtue, but they are an unnecessary interference.
Take my advice: borrow the book and photocopy the chapter summaries in Part Two. Rating: a generous three stars.
Last and by no means least is Dr Julia Grace Patterson’s ‘Critical: Why the NHS is being betrayed and how we can fight for it’ (Mudlark, 2023; also £16.99; this is beginning to look like a conspiracy).
Dr Patterson is the founder of EveryDoctor (cf. everyman, everywoman), a pressure group within the NHS. She reminds us of the founding principles of the NHS: to provide equal care for all, based on a patient’s need, and provided free at the point of delivery. However, as she says at the very beginning:
“The NHS is in the worst crisis of its 75-year history, and it is a crisis (that) … has been caused by the decisions of politicians. Their decisions, to fragment the service, to overload the staff, to allow the infiltration of private companies into our public healthcare system ad to cut the funding, have led to the collapse of out public healthcare system”.
NHS waiting lists are now the longest ever.
Alan Johnson reviewed this book as well as Isabel Hardman’s ‘Fighting for Life: The Twelve Battles that made our NHS and the Struggle for its Future’ in the Observer of 18 June. He raves about Hardman’s book, but says of ‘Critical’ (which he describes as a ‘political chimera’):
“The only part of this dreary polemic that I found entertaining was her castigation of poor old Specsavers”.
But Specsavers puts in a very brief appearance on pages 100 and 101 as an example of an external provider. Dr Patterson rightly identifies the Private Finance Initiatives (PFIs) as one of the ways in which the NHS has been undermined. PFIs were introduced by John Major’s government, and later expanded enthusiastically under Labour. Alan Johnson was a Labour Party Health minister for a time. I wonder … is this why he is put out by Dr Patterson?
Back to the book: you may well be overwhelmed by all the statistics, but Dr Patterson’s basic point – reiterated over and over again – is that successive governments, of whatever political persuasion, have in effect set out to destroy the NHS and it is no longer capable of living up to its founding principles. A terrifying thought.
I give it a five-star rating. Buy it, of course, but then give an equal or greater donation to EveryDoctor. And support the campaign. It’s in your interests.
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