Royal liggers should stick around in hard-up Britain
Buckingham Palace has a terrible sense of timing. As the latest figures show unemployment continuing to rise, one plucky group of people can look forward to a spot of sun and fun in 2012. And, even better, they won't have to pay: the hard-up taxpayer will.
Lavish plans to celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee were unveiled last week. Given that we are staring at the very real possibility of a double-dip recession, and personal debt is higher than ever, you might think the bureaucrats who organise events for the Royal family would have some sense of adapting to straitened times. Sadly not.
The Queen has done a remarkable job. I am not a monarchist, but she exhibits many characteristics that I admire: tact, discretion and dedication to the job.
The Queen has remained a constant in our lives as fashions, prime ministers and reality show stars come and go. For an 86-year-old, she shows extraordinary stamina; undertaking successful trips this year to the Irish Republic and Australia, with a schedule most rock groups would find tough.
Next year she plans to celebrate her 60-year reign by travelling the UK - while dispatching a bunch of lesser Royals to far-flung parts of what remains of the Commonwealth.
Prince Harry gets the best winter sun itinerary - going to Belize, Jamaica and the Bahamas. Prince William and Kate fly to idyllic Tuvalu, a remote group of islands in the South Pacific.
But the jammiest freebie - stopping off at some of the loveliest spots in the Caribbean, from St Kitts and Nevis, Antigua, St Lucia, to Trinidad and Tobago - has dropped in the laps of the Royal couple who seem to have adopted a very low profile in recent years: Sophie and Edward. Prince Charles and Camilla will drop in on Australia and Canada.
I have three issues - apart from the cost - with sending Royals around the globe. First, some of these emissaries are not great ambassadors for our country, which regularly produces highly creative, talented, quirky inventors, musicians, scientists, artists and creative geniuses.
Why not send James Dyson, or Dame Judi Dench, or Tinie Tempah? Why send an under-educated bloke in a formal suit accompanied by a lady in a posh hat before whom people bow and scrape just because of the blood in his veins, rather than for what he has done?
Second, the Commonwealth is made up of countries we occupied and then patronised a long time ago. Our relationship with them should move with the times.
Each destination has other, more pressing, alliances and partnerships, for economic, religious or geographical reasons. Why does Tuvalu or Mozambique, Uganda or Trinidad need a Royal visit?
In some places, connections with the UK are tenuous, or unpopular at best. These unnecessary visits will reinforce antiquated protocol and might be used by unpopular and corrupt politicians to cling to power.
The Royal trips will not repay their costs by delivering trade deals and will be a costly PR stunt with hard-to-measure returns.
Finally, the place for our Royal family in a recession is here at home. When the Blitz hit London, the Royal family visited the bombed streets. They didn't plan a trip to Timbuktu.
The Diamond Jubilee should have been a chance to rebrand the Royal family. But these plans rack up air miles, pollute the environment and achieve little.
The New Year could have seen William and Kate connect with the young in a meaningful way - by living in a hostel or attending a course with young apprentices. They could have worked on a hospital ward and seen dementia at first hand.
Instead, they'll be shaking hands with islanders and smiling, vacantly.