Long live our bourgeois queen

When I visited Osborne House on the Isle of Wight a few years ago, instead of being overawed, I felt a certain familiarity. For Queen Victoria had much the same taste in furniture and baubles as my grandmother - the wife of an Afrikaner railwayman living in the northern Transvaal. It struck me then that the monarchy was occupied by a family of decidedly lower-middle-class taste, sentiment and moral outlook. Being Queen (and rich) magnified those tastes, rather than changed them. I thought it a mark of peculiarly British genius to place such a family at the head of state and apex of the class system as it then was.

A family of limited ambition and outlook would not be tempted to expand its power or interfere with the democratic process, and would be willing to exercise tedious duties and obligations in a way that some foppish aristocrat would not. In addition, having such a royal family would keep the aristocracy in its place. No matter how rich or powerful, they would have to bend the knee to a lower-middle-class family.

Now that the class system has crumbled, one could argue, as the 7 August New Statesman did, that the monarchy is un-necessary, an anachronism, contrary to "democratic principles". I disagree.

The Queen continues to fulfil her historical function of keeping the elite in its place. The monarchy teaches politicians humility. No matter how powerful or popular, they will always be number two. When the military parades, it parades for a little old lady, not some ambitious, power-hungry politician.

James Myburgh
Cape Town, South Africa

This article first appeared in the 21 August 2000 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - What are we doing to our children?

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.