Friday, 29 May 2015

Why Prince Charles should carry on writing

Prince Charles’s letters to government reveal a thoughtful, caring and sometimes humorous royal, says Thomas Blaikie

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Poor old Prince Charles – some find it fashionable to ridicule and even vilify him as a dangerous fool whose only occupation is waiting for his mother to die. But is he his own worst enemy? Perhaps the unfortunate Dimbleby interview and accompanying book with its apparently authorised self-pitying attacks on his parents wasn’t such a good idea. In the PR war with his late wife he undoubtedly was the loser. As the Queen Mother said, ‘Let’s face it. People aren’t interested in seeing someone in the same suit every week.’

On the other hand, he didn’t ask to be born heir to the throne, and was dismayed as a child when he discovered from the TV that he’d become Prince of Wales. But he’s made the best of it and his achievements are remarkable. The Prince’s Trust is one of the important and enduring charities in this country. He has made an important and engagingly eccentric garden at Highgrove. It’s ludicrous to say he’s been hanging around waiting to become King these last 45 years.

Also, as we’ve been aware for some time, he writes letters to the government. Finally last week, The Guardian won its 10-year battle to be allowed to publish them in the hope of exposing a time-wasting, unconstitutional, half-baked meddler.

But what did we actually find? Well, Charles writes to Tony Blair and others about such subjects as badgerculling, inadequate military helicopters, saving old buildings, the Hill Farm Allowance and herbal medicines. He is well informed and reasonable. There are flashes of humour. He fears he might be a bore. He refers to himself as ‘someone with old-fash fashioned views’. The replies are often sympathetic and it seems that his interventions might have had some effect. He cares and is trying to do good. He is never political.

There’s nothing wrong with these letters. It is his recognised right as heir to the throne to correspond with ministers. All hope that this publication will harm him has been sadly dashed. His detractors misunderstand the role of the monarchy.

As Tony Benn explained to a foreigner in the 1960s, the Royal Family has no power but it has a great deal of influence. Prince Charles persuaded the head of English Heritage to look into the cause of Smithfield Market – result: it got listed.

A member of the public complained to the Queen at Exeter after the foot-and-mouth crisis that Tony Blair’s government didn’t understand anything about the countryside. ‘I know,’ she replied. ‘I tell him that every week when I see him.’

‘You can’t cancel Concorde,’ she said to Labour ministers in the 1960s. It must have been a family thing, because Prince Charles did work experience with Tony Benn and said, ‘You’ll find it much harder to cancel Concorde now.’

‘When are you going to finish the M4?’ the Duke of Edinburgh barked at Barbara Castle as the national anthem played at the opening of the Severn Bridge in 1966. She said she enjoyed his breezy approach. Senior members of the Royal Family not only have access to power; they are part of the Establishment. They have training and experience in how it works. They would be at fault if they failed to use their influence. So, Prince Charles, get your pen out and carry on.

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