It started so well.I found myself applauding (in a virtual sense, you understand) the UK Government TWICE on Monday. First, the Home Secretary halted the extradition of Gary McKinnon and then the Attorney General decided to apply to quash the original Hillsborough verdict.
BUT then Dominic Grieve (the AG) made an announcement which seems to indicate that the Prince of Wales has every right – even a duty – to lobby government ministers demanding something or other. My initial reaction was disappointment and disbelief and, two days on, my views haven’t changed.
Apparently, the Queen has a “constitutional duty to consult, encourage and warn ministers” and, on this basis, then so too should her successor. What some see as unconstitutional meddling or even inappropriate lobbying, Mr Grieve sees as training for kingship and a constitutional duty. The Guardian newspaper, perhaps somewhat predictably (as they’re now in the process of taking the government to the high court), sees it rather differently: “It seems all too clear that the disturbing prospect of a systemic and fundamental abuse of the essentially passive role of the crown in our constitutional monarchical system was too dangerous to contemplate”.
Grieve has seen fit to block the publication of 27 letters written by Prince Charles in 2004/2005; he said these letters revealed the Prince's "most deeply held views", they were "particularly frank" and "would potentially have undermined his position of political neutrality"… and "They also contain remarks about public affairs which would in my view, if revealed, have had a material effect upon the willingness of the government to engage in correspondence with the Prince of Wales, and would potentially have undermined his position of political neutrality."
That’s simply outrageous in my view.
This appears to give the Prince of Wales carte blanche when it comes to lobbying ministers and, as we DO know, there have been several matters on which he has imposed undue influence – in the field of architecture, for example (a field in which I have little sympathy with his views, I’m afraid)! See my 2009 blog for just one instance.
If I write a letter of objection or support in connection with a planning application (for example), then it is available for other members of the public to read. If Prince Charles does the same thing, we aren’t allowed to see what he wrote.
That just cannot be right.
Architect (Lord) Richard Rogers views the situation in the following terms: "It is either a democracy or it is not. I don't think anybody, be it a king, prince or poor man, has a right to undermine decisions by private interventions which have a public impact. The only way for Charles to be a public figure is for him to act publicly. It is not democratic to cover up his interventions."
The judges on the information tribunal had ruled in favour of releasing the letters, stating: "The essential reason is that it will generally be in the overall public interest for there to be transparency as to how and when Prince Charles seeks to influence government."
They decided "it was fundamental" that the lobbying by the heir "cannot have constitutional status" and cannot be protected from disclosure. The evidence, they said, showed "Prince Charles using his access to government ministers, and no doubt considering himself entitled to use that access, in order to set up and drive forward charities and promote views, but not as part of his preparation for kingship … Ministers responded, and no doubt felt themselves obliged to respond, but again not as part of Prince Charles's preparation for kingship."
Yesterday’s Leader in the Guardian described the situation thus: “It seems all too clear that the disturbing prospect of a systemic and fundamental abuse of the essentially passive role of the crown in our constitutional monarchical system was too dangerous to contemplate”.
Unfortunately, it would appear that the Prince has rather more influence with government ministers than you or I have.
My impression is that the Queen has undertaken this aspect of her duties in an entirely appropriate, low-key fashion (ie. when it comes to “consulting”, “encouraging” and “warning”). I don’t think the same thing can or would be said for the Prince’s dabbling… and it really worries me.
It just shouldn’t be like this!
Photo: The only positive aspect of this shameful affair is this brilliant cartoon from The Guardian’s Steve Bell. Absolutely wonderful!