The meddling Prince Charles

It has emerged that the Prince of Wales has aides working in government departments which raises questions about his political neutrality.

Alex Chafey is a recent graduate, 2012 Guardian Student Columnist of the Year and writer for film blog

The royal household went in to crisis management mode this week when it emerged that the Prince of Wales has aides working in government departments.  Cue hurried release of royal baby photos to keep the public happy and distracted.

If the principle of political neutrality is abandoned, a constitutional monarch becomes completely indefensible. One of the oft-trumpeted arguments in the monarchy’s favour centres on the role of the monarch as a unifying leader who is above politics, and while Charles hasn’t shown himself to be explicitly partisan, his persistent meddling with the government is highly problematic.

In this latest revelation we’ve discovered that Charles had aides working in the Cabinet Office and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for up to two years. This has prompted questions from MPs, including branding the heir apparent a “constitutional crisis in waiting”. If this was the extent of the allegations against the prince it would be bad enough. An unelected member of the royal family secretly planting their aides in government departments without so much as informing the relevant ministers is scandalous. But this is but the latest in a long string of political interventions from the meddling prince.

Early this year, revelations about Charles’s lobbying on homeopathy came to light.  In spite of having a fellow homeopathy supporter as Health Secretary, Charles feels the need to lobby hard on the issue, heavily promoting the nonsense “alternative medicine” at the cost of the taxpayer even though it flies in the face of all evidence.

In October of last year the High Court ruled that 27 letters written by Charles to seven government departments should be published, a move that was blocked by Attorney General Dominic Grieve due to exceptional circumstances.  Grieve argued that to publish the letters would threaten Charles’s neutrality as a future monarch and his capacity to “engage with the government of the day, whatever its political colour.” At this point Mr Grieve seems to have missed a major reason for the monarch’s neutrality. Its purpose is surely in large part to stop someone having undue influence simply because of the family they were born into. Mr Grieve seems to be suggesting not that he believes that Charles influencing policy is unacceptable, only the idea of him doing so openly. In short, it’s ok for a member of the royal family to pull strings as long as it’s done in secret. If this isn’t what Grieve believes he shouldn’t have blocked the publication of the letters. Going back further, it emerged in 2011 that ministers sought the permission of the prince for no less than 12 government bills since 2005. Charles’s meddling must be exposed so it can be stopped.

As a public figure and future head of state, the political actions of the Prince of Wales should be completely open and transparent. Given the need for him to remain neutral, this should result in few to no attempts to influence government policy on his part. He has no legitimacy on which to base his policy interference so should not attempt to do so. It’s certainly important for a future monarch to take an interest in the government and its policies, but his behaviour quite clearly goes beyond mere information seeking to the realms of lobbying. If he was merely inquiring after government business, why the need for secrecy?

Even without political power, he is able to exercise considerable influence purely as a result of his public profile, for example on his pet interests of architecture and homeopathy. In 2009, for example, he threatened to withdraw his support for the National Trust if they didn’t build their new head offices how he liked, and in 2010 he once again ruffled feathers in the architectural world by dissuading the Emir of Qatar from investing in an £81m Chelsea Barracks residential scheme.

Charles is clearly not wanting of influence. Even in the open and legitimate ways he uses his public status he has much greater impact than an ordinary citizen, so why does he have to repeatedly overstep the mark? He behaves like a spoilt child who will do anything and everything he can to get his way, even if it jeopardises his capacity to be a neutral head of state. If we are going to have a royal family, they should conduct themselves with dignity and a respect for the office they hold, something the Prince of Wales persistently refuses to do.

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