Princess Diana and Prince Charles: Separate Lives

Diana is ready to declare independence, putting in doubt the future of the troubled House of Windsor

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That is not all the crown costs. The government maintains royal buildings and grounds, the yacht Britannia with its crew of 256, the train and the various planes and helicopters that the family use. It all adds up to more than $100 million a year. Commentators like to bring up Scandinavian monarchies, which cost a fraction of that, but Britons revel in pageantry, elaborate parades and huge royal weddings -- and no one in the world puts on a better show.

Such explanations, however, have failed to quiet the protests over the costs of the whole enterprise. As recently as 1990, Parliament voted against taxing the Queen, though polls now show that about 80% of the population think the Queen should pay something. She is listening, and some sort of plans are on the drawing board. It is more likely that the next monarch will be faced with paying the bill. Even such pro-monarchy stalwarts as constitutional scholar Lord St. John (pronounced Sin-gin) of Fawlsey say that "in this day and age, the income-tax exemption is pretty hard to defend." But he deplores any further changes. "The monarchy is the symbol of our national unity."

Does Britain need a monarch at all, or could the nation do just as well without? There are a few obvious advantages. The country profits from an enormous tourist trade, an $11.5 billion industry in 1990. London is one of the top destinations for traveling Americans, and the quaint ceremonies that surround royal life are a major part of its appeal. Then there is the less easily measured factor of the tradition and continuity that the crown represents, something to be proud of in the post-World War II decades when Britain has had to settle for considerably less wealth and power. Finally, many Britons regard a threat to the monarchy as an abrogation of their constitution, the spine of their country. It is not just a matter of conservatism or liberalism. Says Peter Hennessy, professor of contemporary history at the University of London: "I am a man of the center left, but I know a blue-ribbon institution when I see one."

There is a hardy opposition, however, and its best-known mouthpiece is fire- breathing Labour M.P. Tony Benn. "We are still a feudal society, trying to live off whiskey, tweed and the royal family," he sputters. "The fact is that a Prime Minister's powers are derived from crown powers, and they are greater than a President's. A Prime Minister, on his or her own, can create judges, bishops, lords, send troops to the Falklands. Beside this, Di and Fergie are absolute froth."

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