Critics have suggested that the prince abuses his role by seeking to influence policy. But he has the right, and, many would say, the duty, to familiarise himself with government.
Note: This article is from the Guardian.
There is much confusion, to which the Guardian has contributed, concerning the Prince of Wales’s constitutional role. But the basic principle is straightforward. The heir to the throne, unlike the Queen, is free to act or speak without seeking ministerial advice. But he must never embarrass the Queen. Therefore he must remain politically neutral. That, however, does not entail abstention from all public controversy.
Bred in the constitutional tradition, the Prince of Wales is of course thoroughly aware of the conventions and has always observed them. He has indeed made controversial speeches on, for example, teaching Shakespeare in schools, the extension to the National Gallery and modern architecture. But these are not party political matters. Where a matter has become party political after the prince has raised it, for example GM crops, he has refrained from mentioning it in public again.
Critics, including the Guardian, have suggested that the prince abuses his role by seeking to influence policy. But he has the right, and, many would say, the duty, to familiarise himself with government. Previous heirs, such as Edward VII and Edward VIII, have been condemned for not having done this; in consequence they lacked sufficient grasp of issues to make their dialogue with ministers effective when they acceded to the throne.
The prince has, it appears, had 36 contacts with ministers, some of which have been initiated by them, since 2010 – on average one a month. This is hardly excessive. Ministers are perfectly capable of scrutinising critically the prince’s views; and their policies are hardly likely to be altered by junior officials seconded to a government department from the prince’s office.
In fact, many ministers welcome the prince’s approach. In 2006, Tony Blair said that it would be “completely unreasonable not to expect that he has views or that he transmits them to government ministers; but they are not party political. I personally don’t think it has ever caused difficulties for ministers.”
Lord Falconer, the lord chancellor, thought it “perfectly appropriate” for the prince to communicate with ministers, adding: “That does not seem to me necessarily to involve straying into politics.”
The prince has been accused of “lobbying”. But the key feature of a lobbyist is that he has a vested interest. The prince has no vested interests on such matters as Shakespeare or modern architecture. He has also been accused of enjoying a royal veto over matters affecting his private interests. But all that his critics have been able to establish is that he has been consulted. No doubt the editor of the Guardian would be annoyed if he were not consulted on legislation affecting him. But no more than the Guardian editor does the prince enjoy a veto against the advice of ministers. The royal veto was last used in the reign of Queen Anne and is hardly likely to be resurrected today.
The position of heir to the throne is not a wholly comfortable one. While his contemporaries have been advancing their careers, the prince cannot come into his inheritance until his mother dies. He could easily have wasted his time in nightclubs and idle living, as some of his predecessors have been accused of doing. Instead, he has sought to modernise the monarchy by working for those to whom monarchy has in the past seemed of little relevance – the disadvantaged, the unemployed, members of ethnic minorities, and struggling communities such as Burnley, Stoke and Tottenham. The work of his various charities and foundations, including The Prince’s Trust, offers a striking example of how the influence of the monarchy can be brought into play without compromising its political neutrality.
In November 2005, Chris Mullin, the former editor of Tribune and then Labour MP, was invited to Clarence House where he heard the prince speak “without notes, with passion and self-deprecating humour, holding our attention for a full 20 minutes. Always he comes back to the same point. How to widen the horizons of the young, especially the disaffected, the unlucky and even the malign … What influence he has he uses, sometimes to great effect, even at the risk of treading on official toes. It isn’t just talk. His mentality is can-do – and he has a track record of achievement clearly visible for anyone who cares to look. Let he who has done more cast the first stone.”
In seeking to adapt the monarchy to the modern age, the prince, surely, is following an agenda with which the Guardian can sympathise.
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