Unease at Prince Charles’s political ‘meddling’
Attempts by the heir to the British throne to influence politics have been revealed by former government ministers. Is he right to do this? And would this be acceptable behaviour in a king?
He has been waiting for the job his entire life. In 1952, the three-year-old Prince Charles became heir to the throne when his mother became queen. Sixty-two years later, as Queen Elizabeth II begins to transfer some of her duties to her son, commentators are wondering what sort of king he might make. The queen has perfected her role as a monarch who is seen, but not heard. But Prince Charles is different.
He could have waited quietly, performed his public duties and enjoyed himself discreetly, like previous Princes of Wales. Instead, he has created his own role as a royal activist and entrepreneur. His organisation, The Prince’s Charities, is the UK’s largest multi-cause charity, and he was an early promoter of corporate social responsibility.
Unlike the queen, Prince Charles has been outspoken on subjects from London’s architecture to nanotechnology. He has been a figurehead for rallying world leaders to tackle climate change, and a dogged opponent of GM crops. Recently he was critical of Russia’s leader, President Vladimir Putin.
Although there are no formal rules on what royals can or cannot say in public, an unwritten assumption is that they cannot meddle with party politics. Critics say this is where Prince Charles has crossed a line. Ministers in the last Labour government have said he tried to influence policy on issues such as grammar schools and homeopathic medicine.
There is also the ongoing legal saga over the so-called ‘black spider’ memos, a collection of letters he wrote to government ministers. The Guardian believes the public has a right to know if Prince Charles is secretly influencing public policy and continues to fight for the memos’ public release.
Many are sympathetic to Prince Charles's involvement in politics up to now. As one former minister says, ‘if you are waiting to be king ... and you’ve waited a very long time, you genuinely have to engage in something or you’d go spare’. Yet they also believe that he must stop this once he is king.
Some say that Prince Charles’s public statements have been excusable until now, but if he is king, they will undermine both the monarchy and parliamentary democracy. The monarch still has a few strictly limited political powers, but they could be crucial in the future. Would the nation believe a king was acting in its best interests, if he had already shown that he was not above day-to-day politics?
Yet others say that a king who cares about his country must make his opinions heard. If Prince Charles becomes king he has a duty to voice his views if he is to remain relevant to society. He has supported many noble and worthwhile causes up until now, let him continue to do so.
- Should Prince Charles keep his opinions to himself once he is king?
- ‘It is time for us to abolish the monarchy altogether.’ Do you agree?
- In groups, imagine you are in Prince Charles’s position and have spent your life waiting to be king. You have connections with leaders all over the world, but not political power. Write a list of things you might try to achieve.
- Using the links in ‘Become an Expert’, write a ‘pros and cons’ table for Prince Charles becoming king. Decide which you think is most persuasive.
Some People Say...
“The monarchy unites us; a republic would divide us.’Francesco Crispi”
What do you think?
Q & A
- Why should I care about Prince Charles’s views?
- If Prince Charles is using his position to influence politicians in ways that ordinary people cannot, this is undemocratic. If Prince Charles becomes king, his behaviour will be very important in shaping the future of the British monarchy. If people react badly, it might spell the end of it altogether.
- Is Prince Charles popular?
- Public opinion massively turned against Prince Charles in 1997 after the death of the Princess of Wales. The pair were divorced, but while Princess Diana was adored, he was seen as callous and cold. But his popularity has risen considerably since then. A poll earlier this year found more people want the queen to pass the throne to Charles immediately.
- This is the idea that companies have an ethical duty to try to improve the world in some way.
- Climate change
- At the G20 summit in 2009, Prince Charles discussed the state of the rainforest with 19 out of 20 world leaders and raised £6bn to help conservation efforts.
- GM crops
- Prince Charles upset Tony Blair with his strong stance against genetically modified foods. Prince Charles’s argument is that it would help farmers more if the money being poured into GM was directed towards improving agricultural methods.
- Last month, Prince Charles compared Putin’s actions in Ukraine to Hitler’s in the Second World War.
- Homeopathy is a form of alternative medicine which holds that the same thing that causes illness will also be the cure. There is no proof that its methods work and is considered a pseudoscience.
- Most importantly, the monarch decides who to ask to form a government after a general election, that is, who will be his prime minister. Usually this is a formality. But if there is a hung parliament, there may be much greater scope for choice.