Recently Elizabeth Windsor celebrated her 90th birthday and as a consequence the usual pro-monarchy pomp and ceremony was wheeled out. As I’ve said in the past I have no malice or hostility towards the individual members of the royal family, because they are so profoundly uninteresting that it would be difficult to do so, but criticism needs to become more vociferous. The thing that the Queen has always done is stay out of political affairs, both in terms of political commentary and even in casting a vote. Her son, Prince Charles, has not done that and a few days ago the correspondence between Charles and ministers was kept secret. This is unacceptable.
Prince Charles has long been involved in political issues and an argument that has been put forward by some died-in-the-wool monarchists is that this is acceptable because he is a person just like the rest of us. I would agree that Prince Charles is a person just like everyone else and that he is entitled to look at political issues from a certain ideological viewpoint, indeed this is unavoidable. However the role that he has in public life has been defined as being neutral in political issues. For example if a debate was being held between two political candidates, the moderator would have their own political opinions, by virtue of them being politically aware, but everyone would think it outrageous if the moderator was liaising with one of the candidates.
It’s also worth pointing out that Prince Charles, because of his role in public life, is more likely to be ideologically conservative. Don’t get me wrong, there have been outspoken exceptions to this rule, for example Peter Kropotkin was a Russian Prince but renounced his titled after identifying as an anarchist. However, Charles’ comments about the nature of the monarchy and other traditional institutions like the Church of England make it hard for me to believe that he is a closeted Jeremy Corbyn supporter.
Prince Charles should have political views, because I would argue that everyone instinctively does, but he cannot be using his position to lobby on behalf of things that he approves of. In political theory there is a term called ‘public goods’ and I would say that Charles’ comments on such topics, although are wrong on principle, are more excusable. The most common example is in the case of pollution; if Prince Charles gave a speech about the need to have cleaner air, although he is straying into the political realm, it’s not exactly a controversial topic.
The problem is that ideas of ‘public goods’ is defined by the person making the comments. What I mean by this is that Prince Charles in the past has argued and lobbied government ministers to put homoeopathic treatments on the NHS along with other forms of alternative medicine. It is one thing to use your public platform to endorse breathing air that isn’t going to give you throat cancer, and another thing to encourage government ministers to spend taxpayers’ money on something that you like. Health and education are public goods, but going into specifics about what the government should and shouldn’t do is a policy discussion that Prince Charles shouldn’t be involved with.
The way that the government and the monarchy have both argued for the continued opacity around the correspondence between ministers and Prince Charles imply that there is something to hide. Charles’ documents should be published so that we can know exactly what he is saying. Although I hope there is a referendum on the continuation of the monarchy after the Queen’s death, I don’t think that this is likely. That being the case, it is only fair that a more politically active monarch in the form of King Charles III is subject to the same scrutiny under the Freedom of Information Act. The monarchy have always been omitted from transparency legislation and this is unacceptable considering that they only live in their luxury because of taxpayer funds, however if the next unelected head of state is going to be interfering with policy making then they must be held to account like other policy makers.