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Donkin's World: Saving Face At The Royal Mail

Richard Donkin questions whether the Queen's head should appear on postage stamps if Britain's Royal Mail is privatised.

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The forthcoming Postal Services Bill, privatising the Royal Mail, will insist that the monarch’s head remains on stamps regardless of who owns the business in the future, the Government announced. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-12144444

The Royal Mail has used an image of the Queen’s head on stamps http://www.icons.org.uk/theicons/collection/queen-s-head-stamp-design by tradition and the Government believes the tradition should be maintained, even in private ownership. The monarchy started the service originally, so you could see why the Queen might be miffed about losing a personal image that has been around for four decades and reproduced maybe 200 billion times. http://www.royal.gov.uk/MonarchUK/Symbols/Stamps.aspx

“I can’t see any reason why any future owner would want to change this as it’s a very valuable and prestigious tradition” says Edward Davey, minister for postal affairs.

It’s certainly a tradition but what value does it serve today and why shouldn’t a private owner have the right to put whatever design it chooses on its stamp, within reason? After all, there is no Government edict that every email we send should carry an image of the Queen. What’s the difference?

When you take away tradition, the arguments for continuity of the practice look rather thin. Given the ties between government and monarchy in the UK, it was natural for the head of state to feature on coinage and postage stamps in the past. Post privatisation the Royal Mail will continue to provide a country-wide six-days-a-week postal service. http://nds.coi.gov.uk/content/Detail.aspx?ReleaseID=417344&NewsAreaID=2&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+bis-news+%28BIS+News%29

That said, why should a Royal Mail in private hands, possibly foreign ownership, appear to enjoy the trappings of royal patronage, particularly if its future service fails to excel against competition?

Royal patronage to the private sector is generally bestowed through the royal warrant, a hard-earned seal of approval awarded to those who have provided goods or services “by appointment” to either the Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh or the Prince of Wales.

But the Postal Services Bill will maintain the royal connection whatever the composition of the Royal Mail after privatisation and it will not stand or fall in the same way that a Royal Warrant can be assigned to or removed from a tradesman.

A privatised postal service may well take pride in using the Queen’s head on its stamps, but we shouldn’t assume that the royal profile is an endorsement. That’s the problem – it looks like one and competitors may object to that.

There was a time when the efficiency of Royal Mail could be a matter of life and death, when carrying a reprieve “post haste” for a condemned criminal, for example. But not any more.

In the UK we seem to be besotted by traditions – preferring our telephone boxes to be red (even though hardly anyone uses them anymore) and our beer to be pulled in pints (even though that too may change soon with the appearance of the schooner). http://www.camra.org.uk/page.aspx?o=whatsnew1

Most London taxis are black but that doesn’t stop some being covered in advertising in sponsorship deals. Maybe a sponsor might want to have its name on a stamp. Why not Disney stamps, for example, with Mickey Mouse’s head on the cover? That might be more appropriate for today’s Royal Mail which seems a shadow of its former self. It's not as if we have the Royal Twitter or the Royal Facebook; mail is just another service. It doesn’t have to be royal any more, so why this sop to tradition?


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