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Issue #1633      April 2, 2014

Culture & Life

Royals, aristocrats and unearned income

Those assorted right-wing pooh-bahs who like to sound off in the media about left-wing bias at the ABC had better investigate the journalist who did the report on Venezuela in a recent Foreign Correspondent. It was a startlingly honest appraisal of the situation in that country, where carefully orchestrated right-wing groups have been staging “popular” demonstrations in an attempt to bring down the government of Nicolás Maduro and end the Bolivarian Revolution. The ABC’s reporter, however, pointed out that the overwhelming mass of the people did not support the “protesters”. Instead, they saw them as trying to “wreck the country”.

Journalists who honestly report what is going on in a country are becoming fewer and fewer. Most are expected to do no more these days than rehash press releases from those news sources approved by their employers, so that is what they in fact do. To do otherwise can cost you your job. Or at least get your story binned.

Speaking of the ABC, did you see where that embattled organisation’s Board gave itself a six-course lunch at a hideously expensive harbour-side restaurant at The Rocks, in Sydney. Over the very pricey nosh, they decided to offer the Abbott government a voluntary ten percent reduction in the ABC’s budget. That’s a big reduction. It means dropping entire programs, such as bothersome items like Q&A, 7.30 Report and the previously mentioned Foreign Correspondent.

Clearly the ABC Board has no intention of fighting to preserve the ABC’s integrity and future. It’s hard to mount a “Hands Off The ABC” campaign if the ABC won’t join in itself. However, despite the Board’s grovelling attitude, only a determined public campaign will help the national public broadcaster stand up to a hostile Abbott government.


No doubt you saw the report in the newspapers earlier this year that British MPs had been told the shocking news that the Queen was “down to her last £1 million”? It shook me. I can tell you. I’m not sure what we should do about it, though. Send round the hat, perhaps?

Buckingham Palace.

Not that Liz is actually on the rocks, you understand. It’s her reserves that are down, not her income. So we are unlikely to see a sign saying “Rooms To Let” hanging on the gate of Buck House any time soon.

The pro-Tory British newspaper The Telegraph became lachrymose in telling its readers of the Queen’s humiliating situation: “Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle are reported to be in urgent need of repair. Staff must catch rain in buckets to protect art and antiquities,” it wailed. It seems that the Royals, not content with living in palaces from which the ordinary British people are barred, now want those same British people to pay for the maintenance of the aforesaid palaces.

In Russia after the Revolution, most of the owners of the country’s many palaces fled abroad, with their family jewels sewn into the lining of their coats. Now, some of those jewels, that were meant to become “property of the people” under socialism, instead appear on Antiques Roadshow, to extravagant praise from their very wet (and very snobbish) jewelry expert who I suspect would never be comfortable with the concept “property of the people”.

In some cases, however, the owners of the palaces and mansions did not flee the country but stayed and endeavoured to fit in with the revolutionary concepts of the new regime. This meant, in some cases at least, that the former owners were allowed to stay on as guides and caretakers. I wonder if that might not be a possible future for the younger British royals, those that don’t want to play soldiers, at least?

The Queen, incidentally, is not the only wealthy aristocrat in Britain. The Duke of Westminster is the wealthiest man in Britain. He owns a great swathe of property in the heart of London, including the whole of fashionable Mayfair and Belgravia. Nothing like inheriting property to make a man feel he’s achieved something with his life, eh?

Aristocrats persist in other parts of the world too (although not in Russia). According to Robert Lacey’s book Aristocrats, published by the BBC in 1983, the most titled woman in the world is (or was at that time) Dona Victoria Eugenia, Duchess of Medinaceli. She was the fortunate owner of over 90 castles in Spain (and certain people claimed the election of the Popular Front government there in the early 1930s had to be the result of a “Communist plot”!).

But if its castles you want, the German prince Johannes von Thurn und Taxis can (and does) boast that his home in Bavaria contains more rooms than Buckingham Palace. Then there is Prince Franz Josef II of Liechtenstein (the tiny country sandwiched between Austria and Switzerland): he lost no less than 22 castles to the Red Army in 1945 (what could anyone do with 22 castles?). He also gave sanctuary to about 500 Nazi collaborators from the USSR, followers of the turncoat General Vlasov who hitched their wagon to the wrong side. Calling themselves “The First Russian National Army”, these traitors fled Russia with the Nazis but then found themselves homeless.

Besides harbouring anti-Communists, Liechtenstein built its post-war economy on tourism and especially on being a tax haven, much frequented by companies seeking to avoid taxes.

There are even aristocrats in France, where apparently they didn’t cut all their heads off. The Marquis de Ganay, for example, who found France’s wealth tax to be so onerous that he had to open his chateau to the public (at set times and for a price of course). Poor chap. Don’t you feel sorry for him?

Capitalism finds the lifestyle of these parasites a useful distraction for the masses and so tolerates, even aids and abets them, so they can go on living in luxury while the bulk of the population worries about the high cost of health care, funeral expenses, mortgage repayments, and in many cases, food. No wonder the ruling class looks for a distraction.

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