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Opinion

We should be focused on ending poverty, not the rowing royals

Perhaps we always will need to be looking at someone who’s different from us – but does it have to occur at a time when we have real work to do?

When I was a boy I was obsessed by Princess Anne and Prince Charles.Why could they not come down our street in a large Vanden Plas, or even an Austin Princess – a kind of imitation Rolls-Royce – and scoop me up and take me a few miles, a 15-minute drive at the most, to Buckingham Palace. And lavish me with food and beds with blankets and sheets.

My mother did take me and lose me, unintentionally, at the Trooping of the Colour in Whitehall in 1951, when the Royal Princess appeared on a balcony and the crowd rushed forward. I still remember the screams and joyousness of meeting the heads of the tribe that made up Great Britain at the time. Of course just over 10 years later the screams were reserved for another kind of royalty called The Beatles. The royalty of fame and fortune.

A desire to gaze and gawp, to look and linger when famous people are treated like royalty, is too big a desire for most of us. Hence wasn’t it killing two birds with one stone when Harry met Meghan? When royalty met celebrity?

But it has seemingly all unravelled in the last year or two. We seem to be having a rerun of earlier royal spats. Coming as it does in the middle of serious business about getting people back to school and work, and the fallout over how much of the money now owed by the Treasury – ours – was pissed up the wall. We will be looking into the entrails of what we have been through for years to come. The world divided between those that enacted the policy and those that didn’t but thought they should have.

I have often been asked if I’m a monarchist, or a mild supporter of the idea of royalty. I always say the same thing: that I have lived in one monarchy and two republics, the US and France. I would not want to be poor in either of these republics. Nor in a monarchy. But getting rid of the monarch? Would that bring us nearer to the eradication of poverty? They’ve certainly not managed that in the republics I have lived in. Hence is there actually a relationship, as some suggest, between enormous privilege and wealth, and the continuance of poverty?

Very little thinking is used for getting people out of poverty. It’s all about making the poor more comfortable

Why put all your energies into getting rid of the monarch when you still end up with poverty? People say that the money could all be used up for social good, but I doubt it would change anything. It might relieve poverty for some. But relieving poverty extends it, creating dependency on the generosity of others. Condemning people forever to come back for a top up.

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That is one of the worst aspects of modern thinking around poverty. Very little thinking is used for getting people out of poverty. It’s all about making the poor more comfortable.

If I do have a gripe with royalty it’s their incessant need to emphasise the giving out of this relief. This handout that is not a hand up. Most royal events seem to be almost Victorian. The poor, and then the mighty giving out a little of what they’ve got.

But it’s not just the royals who rush to give handouts that take no one anywhere real. No exit out of poverty seems to be the consequence of most giving. Which of course is necessary if you cannot help yourself.

But the greatest gift you can give a person in poverty is the exit out of their need for you to aid and abet them.

But as a slum child I would have loved to have all the eggs and bacon, the Weetabix with hot milk, the stuffings of bread toasted and bathed in marmalade. And the endless cups of tea drenched in sugar. So I would have been a candidate for that handout. That bit of relief as Princess Anne and Prince Charles took a trip down the back of Paddington station and scooped me up for a beano at the palace. Alas they didn’t and I’ve had to make my own way.

I wish though there wasn’t all of this fascination with royalty, and what seems to me the unhealthy interest – distractions – that go with what Meg and Hal did, or did not do. The cross-charges and counter-charges. It will take our mind away from saving our economy and helping our children back to school – issues that are much more important than any royal who ever walked the face of our precious earth.

Perhaps we always will need to be looking at someone who’s different from us, lost in a lustre of something or other. And be more interested in their simple thoughts and actions than our next-door neighbour’s. But does it have to occur at a time when we have real work to do?

I would rather we all got behind the Ride Out Recession Alliance – RORA – and got people back into work, and safely in their homes, so that their children do not have to suffer the destruction that goes with the homelessness and social collapse brought on by Covid-19. Surviving that should be front-page news – not the life of the royals.

John Bird is the founder and editor in chief of The Big Issue.

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