‘And what do you do?’
These are the words you are most likely to hear if you meet a ‘Royal,’ at your investiture, a visit to your place of work or your school.
So the title is a good one for former Lewes MP Norman Baker’s new book, to be published shortly by Biteback. If sales of his previous books are anything to go by, sure to prove a best seller. Unwilling to stick to safe topics, he’s embarked on a forensic examination of what the Royal Family means to Britain. And, to paraphrase his publisher, the bite is back.
He likens the royal family to a long-running soap opera whose members have become celebrities, whether we like it or not. But, he says: “They also display arrogance, hypocrisy and indifference to the gigantic amount of public money they waste.”
He estimates their cost to Britain is about a third of a billion pounds a year and asks why we are being asked to pay £359m to refurbish Buckingham Palace while the Queen hangs onto admission fees.
So not a fan? He accepts there are a few admirable qualities but the negatives outweigh the positives. He said: “There are royals we find admirable, and those Royals we do not find admirable. It very much comes down to individual personalities. I’m a fan of Harry and Meghan but even I find it hypocritical that Harry can preach green issues then fly to his holiday in a private jet with a retinue of security staff - that we pay for.”
He does espouse Prince Charles’ stated view that the Royal Family must slim down and even wonders just what some of them are for, (with the exception of the Queen).
And he notes how former members of loyal staff - ‘backstairs Billy’ or Princess Margaret’s chauffeur - were dismissed the day after their royal employer died, or no longer needed them. They are thrown out of their homes. “That is medieaval - and inappropriate,” he says.
Does he tolerate the Royal Family at all?
“Yes, but a vastly slimmed down version such as you have in Scandinavia. I was at a function in Sweden, talking to a very pleasant lady and later found out she was a Swedish Royal prepared, at the end of the evening, to drive herself home.”
A particular bugbear is how they can represent the constitution - yet stand outside it. He said: “They can veto legislation, for example in animal welfare, organisations like the RSPCA are banned from going onto land they own.”
He cites newspaper coverage as ‘sickenly obsequious,’ and delivered because it sells papers.
Mr Baker is a member of the Privy Council, the body that officially advises the Monarch.