Newspapers blast an elected prime minister rather than secret lobbying by an unaccountable monarch
“I particularly hope that illegal fishing of the Patagonian toothfish will be high on your list of priorities…” This could be the beginning of a letter to a politician by a member of the public, possibly written in green ink. Unfortunately for us, its author is the heir to the throne.
The question of whether Prince Charles should be writing to government ministers on how to order their ‘priorities’ has been lost in the fog of the Tory press. The release of 27 letters from Charles to politicians, after a ten year legal battle by the Guardian, was instead spun into a story about the Prince taking then-prime minister Tony Blair to task about overheated helicopters in Iraq.
The Telegraph’s headlines provide a flavour of the coverage. Its front page reads: ‘How Blair admitted defence failings to Charles.’ Its two stories inside are headed: ‘Challenging black spider memos by Charles kept ministers on their toes’, and ‘Prince laced his notes with goonish humour’.
The paper also runs a piece by courtier Andrew Roberts (‘Revealed: a Prince of passion and integrity’), while its editorial column (‘A temperate prince in tune with the people’) opines, ‘The letters, if anything, enhance his standing rather than diminish it,’ adding that the Supreme Court’s decision to order the release of the letters was ‘regrettable’. (The same spin applied in the Sun and the Mail, though they at least said the secrecy was needless.)
What’s really ‘regrettable’ is a press that chooses to blast a three times elected prime minister, answerable to the electorate, acting on a parliamentary vote in the case of Iraq, and held to account by select committees of public officials, rather than question the secret lobbying of an unaccountable monarch.
The lobbying revealed in these letters show attempts to influence government departments on very important public policy matters, from health to education to defence spending.
They expose his questioning EU regulations on the sale of ‘complimentary medicines’ like homoeopathy and acupuncture – that’s to say, ‘medicines’ for which there is no scientific reason to believe they actually work. (These were received warmly by Blair, another New Age enthusiast.) The Prince has previously lobbied in favour of these non-medicines to be available on the NHS. (The Times deserves credit for leading with this angle.)
His lobbying about defence spending ought to be viewed in light of his role as head of the armed forces once he becomes King, though this point is neglected in the press coverage. His badgering ministers also extends to his backing the ‘badger cull’, which was opposed by animal rights activists and others.
Daily Mail columnists Geoffrey Levy and Richard Kay say more than they mean to in their piece today:
“One has to admire the way these mainly angry letters always appear to manage to be diplomatic, if informal. Reading them, one can almost feel the effort Charles makes to control his anger and passion. Never, though, does one lose the feeling that he, more than anyone, is very aware that as Prince of Wales he doesn’t have to raise his voice.”
Well, quite. We have on our hands an angry King-in-waiting who uses his position to influence public policy, with zero accountability and for the most part – as the fight over this release proves – in total secrecy.
These memos are a decade old. We as taxpayers don’t know what Prince Charles has been saying in the ten years since they were written in 2004-5 to government ministers, including Tony Blair, Gordon Brown or David Cameron.
Nor, for that matter, are we privy to the prime minister’s weekly meetings with the Queen, who’s role Charles will inherit, where the monarch can presumably discuss whatever they like, off the record.
It should not be the role for a free press in a free country to paper over these issues or try to change the subject. Perhaps they could use the space they give to this family’s latest offspring or its publicly-funded holidays, to instead apply the same journalistic standards they would to anyone else in public office.
Adam Barnett is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow MediaWatch on Twitter
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