Long may he meddle: Please, Prince Charles, don’t stop
The heir to the throne has often been proved right, and he will be a better and happier king if he expresses his views
Last week, the Prince of Wales said: “I don’t really see any value in saying ‘I told you so’.” In fact, on the eve of his 70th birthday, he’s entitled to say exactly that.
As was clear from last week’s BBC documentary, he was right to worry about the state of inner cities 40 years ago. And he was right, in 1976, to set up the Prince’s Trust to help disadvantaged young people.
Thirty years after construction started on Poundbury, his traditional building development outside Dorchester, he’s been proved right about architecture, too. Most people would prefer to live in Georgian terraces rather than the hideous steel towers modern architects love to build. They would also prefer the existing classical extension to the National Gallery over the proposed “monstrous carbuncle” the prince attacked in 1984.
He was talking about the problems of plastic more than 40 years ago but nobody was really interested then. Now it’s all the rage.
So if this is the so-called meddling he’s been accused of, then long may he meddle.
The prince has said his public campaigning will stop when he becomes king. He drew a clever comparison between himself and his ancestor Henry V in Shakespeare’s plays. The roistering-doistering Prince Hal had to cast aside his wild side – and his old friend Falstaff – when he became king. And so, too, outspoken Prince Charles must become a more reserved King Charles III – not an entirely silent one, but less political.
The prince has never been party political. In all his many pronouncements over the years it’s impossible to find one that aligns him with a particular party, even if there are certain policies, like the foxhunting ban, that he clearly disagrees with. Still, he has been, if not party political, then highly political. Thus the “black spider memos” he’s been sending for years to politicians, Tony Blair among them.
The memos will have to stop when he becomes sovereign. He knows that, and I imagine he won’t be too upset about it either – because he will finally, after a lifetime’s waiting, have the proper role he’s been craving.
I expect the reason Prince Charles has been so outspoken – and given to frustrated outbursts – is that, for all his undoubted charitable achievements, he still hasn’t got the top job. Until he succeeds to the throne, the only way he can flex his muscles is through those controversial speeches and scrawled letters.
When he becomes king the pressure valve will be released. He will be spending a lot of time working his way through his red boxes. He will be signing legislation, holding privy council meetings and seeing the prime minister every week. His hunger for influence will be sated – and it can all be done in private without the need to reach for his fountain pen.
But if he stops the memos, he can still back those causes he is passionate about. Who could take against him campaigning for beautiful buildings, a better environment and the relief of youth poverty and inner-city deprivation? These are hardly political causes; more aspirations any sane-minded person would share.
The prince’s sainted mother has set an extraordinary precedent. She has kept her lip buttoned, rarely being interviewed or giving away what she thinks. She has, thankfully, reigned for so long (66 years) and so brilliantly, that her style of ruling has created its own form of informal royal convention.
But that doesn’t mean Prince Charles has to follow her example. He can’t quite emulate his great-great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria, who was extremely political with her 10 prime ministers. But he can certainly be more open in voicing his special, non-political interests than his mother. He can do that and still fall within the definition of the monarch’s rights as laid down in 1867 by the constitutional expert Walter Bagehot: the right to be consulted; the right to encourage; the right to warn.
There is nothing in the constitution to prevent him speaking out about those things that are close to his heart, and he will be a happier, better king for doing so.
• Harry Mount is author of ‘How England Made the English’.
– © Telegraph Media Group Limited