Friday, 15 May 2015

Prince Charles' Letters

This week the British monarchy was hit by a devastating scandal. Republicans rejoiced as the Royal Family hung their heads in shame. The whole country, irrespective of class, creed and colour, reeled from the revelation that the Prince of Wales, the future King of the United Kingdom, had written to the Prime Minister... And expressed concerns that the military didn't have the equipment they needed to do their jobs. That's not all, of course. His Royal Highness also had the temerity to campaign for better rights for British farmers being underpaid by major supermarket chains and lobbied to protect wild albatrosses by conserving the Patagonian Toothfish, a key food species. It is, of course, utterly unacceptable for the future head of state to have views on such things.

Of course, I'm being sarcastic here. No one is more enthusiastic about the Royal Family taking the initiative to actively advise the Government and contribute to policy decisions, especially on issues where they have some degree of expertise. Prince Charles is well-qualified, after his long years of campaigning, to pass comments on matters such as architecture, building preservation, environmental affairs and conservation. Of course, no one will agree with His Royal Highness on absolutely everything. I for one was disappointed that the Prince took a position in support of badger culling- probably the most controversial issue he involved himself in- and lack his enthusiasm for "alternative" medicine. Even so, I have no objection to the future king expressing his views in private to ministers. Indeed, it is the right of any British citizen to write to the Government. Most would consider it utterly inappropriate for any such letter from a private individual to the Government to be openly published without the person's consent. And yet, the Supreme Court has ruled that the same right to privacy does not belong to members of the Royal Family.

The letters, all from ten years ago when the UK was under the Labour Government of Tony Blair, were published after a decade-long campaign by the notably Left-wing newspaper The Guardian, which is known for its strong views on "free speech" (which in the past has extended to leaking information sensitive to national security) as well as its flirtations with republicanism. If journalists were hoping for a sensational headline, they were disappointed- besides the Prince's comments on badger culling, the matters discussed in the letters were mundane and the Prince's positions largely uncontroversial. Clarence House issued a statement that "the publication of private letters can only inhibit [Prince Charles'] ability to express the concerns and suggestions which have been put to him in the course of his travels and meetings." Despite this, prior to the letters' publication the Prince and his staff were said to be "sanguine" over the decision, perhaps realising that nothing in the letters cast the Prince in a seriously bad light.

Indeed, many of Charles' positions seem eminently sensible; he lobbied for the British Government to help conserve the Antarctic huts built by explorers Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton during their polar expeditions as part of our cultural heritage (in Charles' own words, "I just wanted to emphasize the iconic importance of these huts in those great Antarctic journeys which will surely resonate strongly in the public imagination"), requested that historic buildings be listed by English Heritage thus protecting them from redevelopment, campaigned for the retention of the Hill Farming Allowance for upland farmers, claiming hill regions are "the most beautiful areas of the country which tourists flock to see, and yet they are the most difficult areas to farm and are the most disadvantaged in every way for those who live there," and expressed concern over reports that the army's Lynx helicopters performed poorly in high temperatures, telling Tony Blair that "I fear that this is just one more example of where our Armed Forces are being asked to do an extremely challenging job (particularly in Iraq) without the necessary resources." 

Despite the overwhelming response of the British public being "so what?", republicans have attempted to spin this nontroversy into a major scandal. Traitorous Labour MP Paul Flynn called for a referendum on whether Charles should succeed his mother as monarch, stating that "Charles has proved himself to be the mouthpiece of sensible views, eccentric views, and barmy views." He went on to say that "as we are not living in a medieval state, the public should have a say into who should be the head of state: should it be Charles, or should it be William, who has the gift of his mother in remaining politically silent and inert." The Hon. Gentleman is apparently unaware of how hereditary monarchies work. Unsurprisingly, fringe anti-monarchist group Republic wasted no time in pursuing the headlines, their miserable leader Graham Smith declaring that "the government must now act to end royal secrecy. Any risk to the monarchy from disclosure must pale against a risk to democracy from having an activist prince acting in secret." Some of the criticisms from the press are simply inexplicable- the Mirror Online seemed to think it was significant that then-education secretary Charles Clarke ended one letter to the Prince with the phrase "I have the honour to be, Sir, Your Royal Highness's most humble and obedient servant". Apparently no one in the Mirror's offices knew that this is the customary way to close a letter to a member of the Royal Family.

Ultimately the response to the letters' publication has been muted, much to the disappointment of those who wish to undermine the monarchy. After ten years and around £400,000 of taxpayers' money being wasted, these letters have only confirmed what we all already know about Prince Charles; that he is a passionate campaigner with strong views on a range of topics which, without his tireless lobbying, would probably never get the recognition they deserve. The Prince has reportedly been writing to ministers since he was sixteen years old, and he's not going to stop now. I hope he never does. 

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