This week’s yacht-gate has all the makings of a media set-up. No, I am not referring to the tragic sinking of the Costa Concordia off the coast of Italy, but rather the media storm over the suggestion that Her Majesty should be furnished with a new Royal Yacht.
Act One of this drama has Michael Gove deciding to publicly announce that the Queen should be treated to a new royal floating palace in this her Jubilee year. Cue media gasps at this fiscal extravagance. ‘Who is going to pay?’ asked a plethora of commentators. Here we have yet another example from the upside priorities of this government, they said.
But wait! In walks David Cameron onto centre stage from the wings and in a booming and positively Churchillian voice declares ‘No!’ This exuberance we are told will not do, here we are are in the midst of a bagel (like the West Wing the word ‘recession’ is verbum non grata in these parts), well, not actually a bagel but almost a bagel (if you know what I mean!) and such public extravagance would be irresponsible in a time of economic woes such as this (shhh. No one mention the Olympics!). You see, says Cameron, Her Majesty must also share the pain for we are most assuredly all in this together. So ends Act Two – Mr Cameron carried off the stage on the wings of a grateful nation’s affection for compassionate conservatism’s fiscal prudence.
But this, dear readers, is not the end for with the rising sun there rises in No 10 Downing Street a a new idea – nay, not an idea – a new society, a big society! And so began Act Three of this drama. The Queen shall have her boat declared the Prime Minister in a patriotic flurry of rhetoric but worry not dear taxpayers for the bill will not be paid by you but by another.
And who is this mystery hero of the tale? This knight in shining armour? Are you, dear reader, thinking what I’m thinking? Probably not. Fresh with the knowledge of the PM’s committed but vaguely practising faith in Christianity I wondered if he, as leader of this Christian nation had put in a word and Jesus Christ had commissioned a Noah’s Ark, Mk II. But no, the answer is even more miraculous – this infusion of capital would come from the private sector (a timeshare perhaps?)
This is, in essence, the story thus far.
Now, let me say that I am a fan of the big society – not in the sense of an amateurisation of public services and as a smokescreen behind which authority’s can hide spending cuts to local services as seems to have happened in much rhetoric – but as a basic conviction of ethical obligation to one’s neighbour, and especially to those more vulnerable than oneself. And that it the problem with this Big Society auction: it only goes to help those who are already obscenely wealthy. It is the exact inverse of the way the big society should work. Just think for a moment what good an infusion of £80m could do. How many of the one in three Liverpudlians presently eking out an existence below the poverty line could be given something approaching an humane life? How many of the thousands of disabled persons who are threatened with a reduction in their Disabled Living Allowances could retain some form of independent life? How many of the estimated 61,000 homeless households could be found a safe place to call their own. How many trafficked women helped? How many … well, you get the picture.
The point is Cameron is not wrong. Although major companies actually paying their fair share of tax would be a start the private sector in its incessant drive to add a percentage point on shareholder return has left local economies in a scrap heap – it is morally right that they pay their share in recovery. But, as we know, what is right and what is done are poles apart. If the private sector is to contribute to making this nation of ours a fairer place we must find ways to encourage such private sector investment.
As enamoured as I remain with Cameron’s idea of a big society I don’t think it will work but I think I’ve come up with a solution: Sell the Monarchy, actually, not sell but rent the monarchy. I know it sounds a bit out there but hear me out. If The Telegraph is to be believed the going rate for a CBE is a mere £500, 000 (as it happens I don’t believe it). How much more then would a would be monarch pay for the privilege to be Sovereign for a year? Granted, it would be a case of money gaining power but then it’s not like HM the Queen (lovely lady that she is) ever won the honour with an overwhelming share of the popular vote, is it? And when it comes down to it I’d rather rich people paid lots of money for power and influence and that money goes to those actually in need than for it to spent by rich people spending money so other rich people can have a nice boat.
But there’s three conditions. First, if we’re going to this it’d better be quick. If the Scots go their own way on independence we won’t have as good a product to sell. Second, under no circumstances should Republic be allowed to bid, they’d just spoil it for everyone else. Third, and this one’s a deal-breaker, under no circumstances will payment be accepted in Euros.