jJohn Oliver spoke about the British monarchy on Last Week Tonight, as the royal family is “in transition” after the death of Queen Elizabeth II at age 96 in September. “In the UK, the argument was that after the death of the Queen, it was simply not the time to criticize her or the monarchy in general. It would be rude,” Oliver explained. “But two months have passed since then, and Charles is the king now.”
And while for many, the Queen’s charm lay in her longevity and “her tendency to be silent: you never really knew what she thought about anything,” neither of those things are true about her son, Oliver argued.
Charles ascended the throne at the age of 73 after a lifetime in the spotlight, a messy divorce, and numerous public missteps. “He doesn’t have the inscrutability of his mother, nor does he enjoy his level of public affection, and his accession to his throne comes as the UK faces a cost-of-living crisis,” Oliver explained.
Which led him to ask what the goal of the monarchy is, both for the UK and for countries around the world for whom the monarch remains a figurehead.
The monarch’s job, he explained, is to be the head of state, a symbolic position tasked with receiving incoming and outgoing ambassadors and heads of state, and conducting state visits abroad. “Think of the royals like Mickey and Minnie at Disneyland — they’re not in charge of the attractions, but they’re the mascot for the whole operation, and people like to take photos with them,” Oliver said.
Royal advocates would say that the ceremonial aspect is the point; The Royal Family website describes the sovereign as a “focus of national identity, unity and pride” that “gives a sense of stability and continuity.”
“But that comes at a price,” Oliver said, pointing to the 100 million pounds ($117 million) that British taxpayers pay each year in the sovereign maintenance grant for the royal family. Oliver pointed to the “asterisks” in the sovereign grant, as the royal family has other sources of income: private wealth the details of which are a closely guarded secret, and the Duchy of Lancaster, a huge portfolio of estates containing land seized by the monarchy in the thirteenth century. century. (The portfolio paid the Queen $27 million the year before her death.) There’s also the Duchy of Cornwall, another billion-dollar real estate portfolio now in the hands of Prince William, which brought in $26 million last year.
“The wealth of the royal family, as opposed to their gene pool, is enormous,” Oliver said. The two dukedoms are exempt from corporation tax and Charles pays no inheritance tax, “and when you factor in all that, it certainly starts to look like they’re costing a lot more than a pound a person.” Oliver said.
Oliver was frank in his feelings about the royal family: “They are like a human appendage. We have evolved well beyond needing them and there is a compelling case for their surgical removal.” But he acknowledged that he was in the minority for the British, as 67% feel the monarchy should remain.
His role abroad, however, is a more open question. Oliver briefly outlined the role of the royal family in the transatlantic slave trade, established under royal charter. “I understand that people shouldn’t be personally responsible for whatever their ancestors did,” he said, “but trying to talk about the British role in the slave trade without talking about the monarchy is like trying to talk about Jeffrey Epstein. . Not to mention the monarchy. They are inextricably linked, however uncomfortable that fact may seem to them.
He also reminded viewers of “one of the most brutal atrocities carried out by the British”: the crushing of the Mau Mau Rebellion by the Kikuyu people of Kenya, which occurred in the early years of Elizabeth’s reign. The Kenyan Human Rights Commission estimates that the British executed, tortured or mutilated 90,000 people during the crackdown and detained 160,000 in barbed wire camps.
“We don’t know what the queen knew, what she is told is kept secret, very conveniently, but we do know what her government did on her behalf,” Oliver said. “If you are the symbol of a country, you represent what she does.
“You can’t say you’re just a symbol and you’re not responsible for how the institutions you run behave,” he added, pointing to, among many examples, the role of the Church of England in Canada’s forced assimilation residential schools. for indigenous peoples.
The royal family, he continued, has “refused to consider” why many Commonwealth countries have left (Barbados) or are considering (Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize). “Instead, they have continued to work hard to be perceived as a mere symbol, never taking responsibility for what that symbol excused, while ignoring calls for true apologies and reparations for those who suffered tremendously for what was done in their name.”
“You don’t have to personally hate the royal family,” he continued. “I mean, Google ‘Prince Philip’s racism’ or ‘all of Prince Andrew’ and see where you land, but you don’t have to hate them. You don’t even have to think that the institution shouldn’t exist.
“But if it’s going to continue, it’s fair to expect a lot more from them,” he concluded. “Because too often they hide behind the convenient shield of courtesy and manners that require silence from anyone who might criticize them or what they stand for.”
Oliver questioned whether his segment would air on Sky TV in the UK, which had previously cut Oliver’s jokes about the Queen within a week of his death. “But if they remove it for disrespect, they should really think about why,” he said. “Why are they, and everyone else, working so hard not to offend a family whose name was burned into people’s skin “during the slave trade” and who sit on a pile of stolen wealth? with crowns adorned with treasures from other countries”.