Britons welcome royal wedding – as long as they don't have to pay
The royal nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton is welcomed by Britons – but most say they want a more modest affair that doesn't drain the public purse.
Media attention Friday fussed over hints by Elton John that he will sing at the event, 17 years after performing an adapted version of his hit "Candle in the Wind" at the funeral of William’s mother, Diana, Princess of Wales.
But now that a venue date has been named for the big day – keep your diary free for April 29 at London’s Westminster Abbey, the royals’ "local" church – the question of who will foot the bill in an era of austerity is rather tricky.
Mindful of the fact that Britons are still digesting the harshest government spending cuts for generations, William’s officials have said that the costs of the wedding would be paid for by the royal family and Middleton's parents, self-made millionaires from an online party-ware business.
“All parties involved in the wedding, not least Prince William and Miss Middleton, want to ensure that a balance is struck between an enjoyable day and the current economic situation,” Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton, private secretary to the prince, said Wednesday.
End of story? Not quite.
While "wedding" costs such as paying for the church service will be borne by the families, an estimated £5 million ($7.9 million) security bill for policing an event that is likely to attract tens of thousands of spectators will fall to the taxpayer.
On top of that, not everyone is happy that the government has declared April 29 a bank holiday. While welcoming the announcement, the Confederation of British Industry lobby group has calculated previously that such breaks cost the economy £6 million ($9.3 billion) in lost productivity and overtime payments.
However, royalists such as Jacques Arnold of the Constitutional Monarchy Association, which defends the monarchy, argue that those costs will be more than recouped by the event’s spinoff value to tourism and other sectors.
“The reality is that so many extra tourists and travelers will be coming in to London to watch it, and will inevitably be sending money on hotels, shopping, dining, and the like, that the VAT (value added tax, or sales tax) receipts on those alone will more than cancel out the costs for the taxpayer,” he said.
As for the era of austerity, he added. “Ironically, we are now in similar straits to when the prince’s grandmother got married in 1947.”
“That was pretty austere occasion and I would not be surprised if the people in Buckingham Palace are looking at the cautionary steps that were taken, such as ensuring that the wedding breakfast complied with the letter and spirit of the rationing laws of the time. Her wedding dress was also constrained by rationing coupons for clothing. We don’t have rationing in this day and age, but they will be cautious about going over the top.”
Britons think it's wise to be frugal, survey says
Indeed, a Harris poll suggested Tuesday that this would be wise. More than 80 percent of Britons interviewed agreed that taxpayers must not be asked to fund the occasion, and although 53 percent said it would cheer the nation in a time of austerity, and 51 percent believed it should be a "fairly modest" occasion, compared with 24 percent, who wanted it to be extravagant.
According to Graham Smith of the campaigning organization Republic, which calls for the abolition of the monarchy, the figures are symptomatic of the attitude of the Britons generally to the monarchy.
“They don’t care that it is there but they don’t see why they should have to pay for it. They don’t see it as a public institution but as a family in a big house who ought to get on with their own business and pay for their own business,” he said.
“On this occasion, people are quite happy to say good luck to them. However, anyone who wishes to hold a public event in London or any where else in the UK has to pay the authorities for their time and for them to police the event, so it ought to be the same on this occasion.”
Recently, the royal family has been showing signs of taking the public mood into account – even if critics suggest such moves are piecemeal.
After last month's stringent government spending review, the queen agreed to cut total her household’s spending by 14 percent in 2012-13. Buckingham Palace has also canceled its £50,000 ($78,200) Christmas party.
The government, which pays £15 million ($23 million) a year toward the upkeep of royal palaces, is meanwhile demanding that maintenance costs for the palaces and royal travel costs be reduced by 25 percent.
Next year, though, perhaps the royals would also do well to learn from the example of their Swedish counterparts. A wave of republican sentiment was provoked by the relatively modest £1.6 million ($2.5 million) cost of June’s wedding between Sweden's Crown Princess Victoria and her personal trainer, Daniel Westling, half of which was paid for by the taxpayer.