Copyright ©Steve Bell 2011
25 June 2010 – Prince Charles opposition to development unwelcome says judge
A high court judge today dealt an unprecedented blow to the Prince of Wales’s ability to interfere in public life by describing his opposition to a major planning application in London as “unexpected and unwelcome”.
Mr Justice Vos ruled that Charles’s intervention in plans for the £3bn Chelsea barracks redevelopment in the capital placed the rulers of Quatar, who owned the site, in “an impossible position” and had an impact on the views of the elected politicians charged with deciding on the plans’ merits.
In a historic judgment, Vos found that Qatari Diar, a property development company wholly owned by Qatar’s royal family, changed its plans for the prime London site as a result of the prince’s direct complaint to the emir that he did not like the designs by the firm of Lord Rogers, a leading modernist architect with whom he has clashed on several occasions.
Charles had voiced opposition to the plan for more than 500 homes on the former Ministry of Defence site at a teatime meeting with the emir at Clarence House last spring, and also wrote to the prime minister of Qatar attacking the designs as part of a “gigantic experiment with the very soul of our capital city”. He said it should be scrapped in favour of something more “old-fashioned” like the buildings in “Bath or 18th-century Edinburgh”.
The judge ruled that by withdrawing the application shortly after his intervention, Qatari Diar breached its contract with co-developer CPC Group, owned by Monaco-based businessman Christian Candy, clearing the way for a claim for costs and damages.
However Vos did not support Candy’s claim for an early payout of £68.5m, which would have come if planning consent had been granted. He said that Qatari Diar was “caught between a rock and a hard place” as a result of Prince Charles’s impassioned demands for an alternative scheme and had been “doing the best it could in difficult circumstances” involving “diplomatic and political implications” to continue the planning process as normal.
The judgment exposed the prince’s powerful influence and how he was prepared to go to great lengths to lobby not only fellow royals but also to consider putting pressure on the mayor, Westminister city council and the media to ensure that the scheme would never be built.
Vos said both Qatari Diar and CPC Group “were faced with a very difficult position once the Prince of Wales intervened in the planning process in March 2009”. He said Qatari Diar executives had to try to “calm the political waters and prevent royal feathers being further ruffled”.
“Qatari Diar was in an impossible position,” Vos said. “It could not pretend that the Prince of Wales had not written to its chairman. It could not do nothing. It was, in modern parlance, caught between a rock and a hard place. If it did nothing, it would have risked exacerbating the position with the Prince of Wales, thereby risking that he might take his opposition further by contacting the mayor, the WCC or even the press.”
The case has raised serious questions over whether the prince overstepped his constitutional role by becoming involved in a democratic planning process, and today Ruth Reed, the president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, said Charles’s actions had been “an abuse of privileged position” and had “failed to engage with the planning process entirely openly and appropriately”.
“The UK has a democratic and properly constituted planning process: any citizen in this country is able to register their objections to proposed buildings with the appropriate local authority,” she said. “The message that this affair sends to overseas investors considering working on UK projects is very concerning.”
In his 98-page judgment, Vos said changes were already being negotiated on the scheme through the mayor’s office when the prince became involved because Boris Johnson objected to the repetitive design in one area, but not because he objected to its overall modernist premise. “This process was interrupted before it had reached its natural conclusion,” he said.
Clarence House declined to comment today. The prince’s spokesman, Paddy Harverson, has previously said: “The prince has every right to express an opinion privately, which he does with passion, because he cares.”
Vos said: “I formed the clear view that the intervention of the Prince of Wales was immediately recognised … as raising a serious political issue that needed to be dealt with at the highest level.”
He also ruled that even after the Qataris had decided to pursue an alternative scheme, the prince’s position continued to have an “impact on the views of the officers and politicians (but primarily the latter) at Westminster city council and the Greater London authority”.
The judge said what might have been regarded as a relatively simple dispute “appeared at times to be all-out war”. Both sides made “overblown” allegations of bad faith. He asked them to try to work together to achieve planning consent, but that seemed a dim prospect. A Qatari Diar statement said “CPC’s claims have been a complete waste of time” and that it had lost “a future business relationship with QD as a result of its conduct”.
A new design is being drawn up by Dixon Jones, architects of the Royal Opera House, fellow architects Squire & Partners, and Kim Wilkie, a landscape designer who has proposed a market garden, beehives and nut trees. Ben Bolgar, senior design director at the prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment, sat on the judging panel and Prince Charles continues to be briefed on the design. Plans are due to be submitted to Westminster council next month.
25 June 2010 – Case exposes secret strategies used by ‘meddling prince’ to intervene in public affairs
The Chelsea barracks case has offered a rare glimpse into the otherwise secret strategies used by the Prince of Wales when he wants to interfere in public affairs.
From the typed letters on Clarence House notepaper underlined in his own hand, to the clever blend of courteousness and implied threat used in his own correspondence and by his righthand man, Sir Michael Peat, the case has revealed in detail how the prince wields his power.
The high court ruled today that the Qatari royal family’s property company breached its contract with a partner company when it withdrew a planning application for the £3bn Chelsea barracks development after the prince’s intervention. In describing the prince’s intervention as “unwelcome”, Mr Justice Vos said the Qatari royals immediately recognised that the prince’s complaint “raised a serious political issue that needed to be dealt with at the highest level”.
His verdict on what happened next sheds new light on how tea with the emir last March at Clarence House was conducted in a uniquely royal way, without any of the senior protagonists doing anything as gauche as issuing a demand or an instruction.
“I am sure that in their meeting, the Prince of Wales expressed his dislike for the Rogers Stirk Harbour Partnership’s design, and the emir politely concurred,” said Vos. “It seems likely to me that the emir would have said something more nuanced than that ‘he would have the plans changed’, but I am sure he gave the Prince of Wales and Sir Michael the impression that that would be the outcome.”
At a subsequent meeting between the emir and the chief executive of Qatari Diar, a company which at the time boasted a $40bn (£27bn) investment portfolio with 60 projects in 32 countries, there was no “blunt instruction” from the emir, but the judge said “he was not happy about upsetting the Prince of Wales and that he [the chief executive] should find alternatives to the existing design”.
For others though, the prince’s tactics may seem familiar. For almost three decades Charles has developed a reputation as, in his own words, “a meddling prince” who has waded into issues including farming, genetic modification, global warming, social deprivation, planning and architecture.
Given the inherently political nature of such topics, the prince has established a network of 20 charities as a key tactic for circumventing the convention that the royal family, especially the heir to the throne, should stay neutral. Some people have complained that they push the prince’s beliefs much too aggressively.
One of Charles’s most active charities has been the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment, which promotes his belief in more traditional forms of architecture and planning. In the Chelsea barracks case, the court heard how the prince, the charity’s president, encouraged the Qatari royal family to use his charity to make alternative plans.
Recent history shows the same charity also helped carry out the prince’s campaigns against other developments. It became involved in the redevelopment of Smithfield Market after Charles declared himself “confused and bewildered” by earlier plans and wrote about his worries to the then-chairman of English Heritage, a government body that advises on which historic buildings to protect.
Charles also offered the charity as an adviser to Francis Salway, the chief executive of Land Securities, one of the biggest developers in London, when he objected to the modernist design of its office scheme beside St Paul’s Cathedral.
In the controversial area of complementary medicine, the now defunct Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Health became involved in trying to change government policy. The charity was paid £1.1m by the Department of Health to advise on the regulation of massage, aromatherapy, reflexology and other complementary therapies as Prince Charles personally lobbied health ministers to use the treatments across the NHS.
It engaged in a public row with the professor of complementary medicine at Exeter University, Edzard Ernst, after Ernst attacked its draft guide to complementary medicines as “outrageous and deeply flawed”.
The Charity Commission was asked to launch an investigation into allegations that the foundation may have breached charity regulations by pursuing a “vendetta” against Ernst. A separate police investigation then saw the former finance director, George Gray, arrested and subsequently charged with theft, fraud and money laundering.
The trustees have now closed down the charity, a sign perhaps that the strategy of devolving the prince’s campaigns to his charities could be damaging his reputation.
The Chelsea barracks case also showed the prince’s use of hyperbole to make his case. In his letter to the Qatari prime minister, he called the designs “a gigantic experiment with the very soul of our capital city”.
Such extravagant claims will be familiar to the scheme’s architect, Richard Rogers, whose designs for the office development beside St Paul’s Cathedral in the 1980s were torpedoed when Charles implied in a public speech that the plans were more offensive than the rubble left by the Luftwaffe during the blitz.
Sometimes, the prince chooses to be more discreet. He was said to be “very unhappy” that his complaint to the Qataris had been leaked, perhaps because he knows how effective he can be pulling strings behind the scenes.
When Rogers, a frequent foe of the prince, was bidding to redesign the Royal Opera House, he believes the prince wrecked his chances using covert pressure.
“We got a phone call from the people at the Royal Opera House one evening, about 9pm saying ‘good scheme, but you’re too risky’,” Rogers has said. “I was basically told: ‘the prince does not like you.'”
Last year the Guardian used the Freedom of Information Act to find out that since 2006 Charles had written to ministers in at least eight Whitehall departments – Food and Rural Affairs, International Development, HM Treasury, Foreign Office, Work and Pensions, Education, Communities, and Culture, Media and Sport. The content of the letters was withheld, under laws which protect royal correspondence (see box).
The royal household insists that Charles will become far less involved in his causes if and when he becomes king, but sources suggest otherwise.
In late 2008, after the prince’s 60th birthday, it was reported that aides at Clarence House and Buckingham Palace had begun informally considering redefining the sovereign’s role to “allow King Charles III to speak out on matters of national and international importance in ways that at the moment would be unthinkable”.
The claim was made by Jonathan Dimbleby, the prince’s close friend and biographer, but Clarence House insisted no plans were being made for the prince’s accession to the throne.
30 October 2011 – Prince Charles and the ancient charter that calls for his consent to certain bills
The title and property of the Duchy of Cornwall were created in 1337 by Edward III, and were given by royal charter to his son, the Prince of Wales also known as the Black Prince.
Under the charter, the duchy always belongs to the sovereign’s eldest son who is the heir apparent. If the heir apparent dies without leaving children, the property of the duchy reverts to the crown. So although the duchy belongs to the Prince of Wales, who is also the Duke of Cornwall, there is a theoretical possibility that it could revert to the sovereign, who therefore has a contingent personal interest in matters that affect the property of the duchy.
Bills in parliament that would affect the sovereign’s private interests (or the royal prerogative) require the Queen’s consent; by extension, therefore, bills that would affect the duchy also require consent, and since the Prince of Wales administers the duchy he also performs the function of considering and granting relevant requests for consent.
Queen’s consent and prince’s consent are fundamentally different from royal assent. The consents are required as a matter of parliamentary procedure, as a method of protecting crown prerogative and private interests.
Royal assent is a feature of constitutional law rather than merely parliamentary procedure: it is the method by which a bill that has passed through parliament becomes an act, and it amounts to a formal assent given by the sovereign.
Apart from the special position of property belonging to the Duchy of Cornwall, the Duke of Cornwall has no special constitutional position; he is a subject of the crown like any other. The sovereign and the Prince of Wales are the only members of the royal family whose consent is required for bills that affect their private interests.
30 October 2011 – Prince Charles has been offered a veto over 12 government bills since 2005
Ministers have been forced to seek permission from Prince Charles to pass at least a dozen government bills, according to a Guardian investigation into a secretive constitutional loophole that gives him the right to veto legislation that might affect his private interests.
Since 2005, ministers from six departments have sought the Prince of Wales’ consent to draft bills on everything from road safety to gambling and the London Olympics, in an arrangement described by constitutional lawyers as a royal “nuclear deterrent” over public policy. Unlike royal assent to bills, which is exercised by the Queen as a matter of constitutional law, the prince’s power applies when a new bill might affect his own interests, in particular the Duchy of Cornwall, a private £700m property empire that last year provided him with an £18m income.
Neither the government nor Clarence House will reveal what, if any, alterations to legislation Charles has requested, or exactly why he was asked to grant consent to such a wide range of laws.
Correspondence seen by the Guardian reveals that one minister wrote to the prince’s office requesting his consent to a new bill about planning reform because it was “capable of applying to … [the] Prince of Wales’ private interests”.
In the last two parliamentary sessions Charles has been asked to consent to draft bills on wreck removals and co-operative societies, a freedom of information request to the House of Commons has revealed. Between 2007-09 he was consulted on bills relating to coroners, economic development and construction, marine and coastal access, housing and regeneration, energy and planning.
MPs and peers called for the immediate publication of details about the application of the prince’s powers which have fuelled concern over his alleged meddling in British politics. “If princes and paupers are to live as equals in a modern Britain, anyone who enjoys exceptional influence or veto should exercise it with complete transparency,” said Andrew George, Liberal Democrat MP for St Ives in Cornwall. “The duchy asserts that it is merely a private estate. Most people will be astonished to learn that it appears to have effective powers of veto over the government.”
“We should know why he is being asked and the government should publish the answers,” said Lord Berkeley, who was last month told to seek Charles’ consent on a marine navigation bill. “If he is given these powers purely because he owns land in Cornwall it is pretty stupid. What about the other landowners who must also be affected by changes to legislation?”
Revelations about Charles’ power of consent come amid continued concern that the heir to the throne may be overstepping his constitutional role by lobbying ministers directly and through his charities on pet concerns such as traditional architecture and the environment.
A spokesman for the Prince of Wales would not comment on whether the prince has ever withheld consent or demanded changes to legislation under the consent system. “Communications between the prince or his household and the government are confidential under a long-standing convention that protects the heir to the throne’s right to be instructed in the business of government in preparation for his future role as monarch,” he said. Daniel Greenberg, a former parliamentary counsel and now parliamentary lawyer at Berwin Leighton Paisner, said: “It is something of a nuclear-button option that everybody knows he is not likely to push. But like the nuclear deterrent, the fact that it is there, influences negotiations.”
Graham Smith, director of Republic, the campaign for an elected head of state, said it was “an affront to democratic values” that citizens had no right to know whether Charles was insisting on changes to bills. “We know Charles has been lobbying ministers, but this is evidence he has the power to instruct them to alter their plans and that gives him leverage,” he said.
31 October 2011 – Reveal Prince Charles’s input on planning law, government urged
The government is facing growing pressure to reveal how the Prince of Wales has used his power of consent over draft legislation after it emerged ministers asked him to approve planning and construction laws because they might directly affect the private £700m property empire that provides his annual income.
Documents reveal that in 2008 Lady Andrews, a Labour communities minister, wrote to Sir Michael Peat, his private secretary, seeking Prince Charles’s consent to law changes that would “affect the interests of the Duchy of Cornwall” and were “capable of applying … [to the] Prince of Wales’ private interests”. http://www.theguardian.com/uk/interactive/2011/oct/31/letter-prince-of-wales-consent
The draft local democracy, economic development and construction bill proposed to change laws about handling disputes and payments in building contracts and to introduce a new regional strategy for planning permissions. The duchy is a leading builder and has spent more than £18m on property development and improvements in the last two years, according to its accounts.
It also has large developments under way that require planning consent, including 500 new homes at Poundbury, Dorset.
Prince Charles relies on duchy profits to fund his lifestyle and work, and last year received £18m in profits from the estate. Charles has been granted the right to veto draft bills because they might affect his interests or those of the Duchy of Cornwall in what constitutional experts described as the equivalent of a royal “nuclear deterrent” over public policy. On Monday details emerged of five more bills to which the Prince has been asked to grant consent since 2005, bringing the total over the period to at least 17. They covered subjects such as marine navigation, retail development, company law and charities, parliamentary records show.
On Monday night Labour peer Lord Berkeley, who was ordered to seek the prince’s consent over a bill on marine navigation, formally called on the government to “publish all correspondence between the Prince of Wales and the Queen and ministers in connection with bills for which their consent is sought” and to say “whether any bill in the last five years has been altered as a result of comments from Prince Charles or the Queen, and in what way”.
Clarence House and Whitehall seemed to be divided over whether such transparency was a good idea. Clarence House declined to say how the Prince responded to the draft local democracy, economic development and construction bill. A spokesman for the Department for Communities said on Monday “no changes were requested and as such none were introduced”.
Asked if David Cameron – who last week agreed with Commonwealth states to change the rules on succession to the throne – had any plans to reform the system, the prime minister’s spokeswoman said: “I know of no plans at the moment to look into it.”
Clarence House insisted any correspondence was a “private matter” but said the convention was not about seeking the prince’s personal opinions. “Parliamentary procedure determines that the Prince of Wales in his capacity as the Duke of Cornwall may be required to give his consent to bills directly affecting the interests of the duchy,” the prince’s spokesman said. “This is not about seeking the personal views of the prince but rather it is a longstanding convention in relation to the Duchy of Cornwall, which would have applied equally to his predecessors.”
Graham Smith, director of Republic, the campaign for a directly elected head of state, said the loophole was fundamentally anti-democratic. “Charles is quite capable of doing the right thing by refusing to exploit his position for personal gain – yet he refuses to do so,” Smith said.
The government and Clarence House have repeatedly refused to disclose correspondence detailing the application of Charles’s power.
The justice, education and food and rural affairs departments are among those to invoke an exemption to freedom of information laws that allows correspondence between Charles and his aides and government to be kept secret, claiming that to do otherwise “would undermine the Prince of Wales’s privacy” and “could have a chilling effect on the way in which he or his representatives correspond with government ministers”.
In a rare exception, the Department for Communities agreed to release its letters to Prince Charles over the local democracy, economic development and construction bill, providing a unique insight into the application of the otherwise secretive protocol. Lady Andrews’s three-page consultation with Charles on draft planning and construction laws begins: “I write to formally request the consent of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to provisions to be included in the … bill.”
It includes 12 detailed paragraphs on how the new legislation will change laws on adjudication procedures in contractual disputes with builders and laws affecting how contractors must be paid.
Andrews explained: “Granted that these proposed changes … will apply to construction contracts entered into by or on behalf of the Duchy of Cornwall, we should be very grateful to receive the consent of the Prince of Wales.”
Turning to changes to regional planning law, she spelled out proposed new regional planning strategies and warned Charles that this section of the bill “is capable of applying to the Crown and the Queen and Prince of Wales’ private interests and therefore that consent is required”.
“They were trying to tell him in 2008 that, like everybody else, he will be subject to statutory development plans,” said David Lock, a former government planning adviser. “This was an attempt to make the crown estate and duchy subject to the same planning rules as everyone else, which means they would not get any privileges over any other land owner.” A Clarence House spokeswoman confirmed the duchy enjoys some exemptions from normal planning laws but “has chosen not to exercise these rights since the change in legislation”.
“Since 2006 the duchy has been subject to planning control in the same way as any other landowner and prior to that voluntarily complied with planning laws,” the spokeswoman said.
Labour has called for “complete transparency” about the views, if any, that Charles has expressed in the process of granting consent to bills.
“Most people will be taken aback by what has been highlighted,” said Wayne David MP, Labour’s spokesman on constitutional reform. “There needs to be a mechanism so that the if the Prince of Wales is expressing a formal position he can do that an open way. We live in a democratic society so any views expressed should be disclosed and should be open to scrutiny and analysis.”
31 October 2011 – Prince Charles’s veto: bad heir day
In many ways, Prince Charles has an unenviable public role. No one would actively seek out a 60-year career as understudy to a globally famous act, although the remuneration might be some compensation. It is to his credit that while his predecessors left a variety of examples of how to conduct himself, he has mostly avoided them. That makes it all the more extraordinary that letters like the one from the communities minister Baroness Andrews to Prince Charles’s private secretary Sir Michael Peat, seeking the prince’s consent to a change in the planning law, did not set off every warning bell in Clarence House. To almost every citizen in Britain, the idea that the Prince of Wales has the right to veto government legislation – even if it relates only to a handful of bills over a decade or more – is an astonishing discovery. But to those in the parallel universe occupied by communications between government and Prince Charles, it seems not to have been worth a second thought.
That speaks volumes about the magical realism of the relationship between crown and parliament. There is even a constitutional defence, weird it is true, but internally consistent with the vestiges of royal prerogative that thread through the law of the land. This is it: when there is no heir apparent, the Duchy of Cornwall – a large business that is the source of most of the prince’s income – reverts to the throne. Consequently, it retains the protection of royal prerogative and thus the right to be consulted, in areas that might affect its interests, on changes to the law. Those who came across this anomaly perhaps dismissed it as one of those quaint footnotes to our island story. Certainly the royal advisers failed to register that – after the public disquiet at mounting evidence of Prince Charles’s political activism, of the ministerial lobbying and the infamous letters in black spidery writing – disclosure of this meddling prince’s powers of veto would cause genuine alarm.
Or perhaps they thought no one would ever find out. Earlier this year, the information commissioner accepted that, in order to defend the constitutional fiction of his political neutrality when he becomes king, the prince’s correspondence with government should be exempt from Freedom of Information requests. There was talk of the “chilling effect” if correspondence could be published. Yet how much more chilling to the political processes, surely, that the prince can lobby ministers who know – even if he has never exercised it – he has the power of veto. Both Clarence House and Downing Street insist it is the merest constitutional accident. That is a relief. It should be easy to
31 October 2011 – Prince Charles in trouble Again? Two cheers for the Queen
Whenever Charlie Windsor gets into hot water, it reminds me of what a good job his old mum has been doing as she props up the monarchy almost single-handed against the odds.
The Prince of Wales’s cack-handed political interference, serves to underline just how deft his mum has been in these near-60 years in keeping out of trouble – resolutely dutiful, cheerfully unfashionable, shrewd. It’s always a tightrope act: one bad slip and you’re gone.These are modernising days for the monarchy, no more immune than the rest of us from having to adapt (no need to feel too sorry for them), having to work well past 65 and, technically qualifying as a “fuel poverty” family because the senior Windsors spend more than 10% of their income heating all those draughty palaces and castles.
31 October 2011 – Prince Charles is not the people
The monarchy is probably more secure and popular than at any time in the past 25 years. Amid the cacophony of adulation, republicans cannot hope for a hearing, particularly now the Queen and her consort have reached the age where, even if they were found to be running a brothel at Windsor Castle, their status as national treasures would protect them from all but mild popular rebuke.
As disclosed on Monday, however, our elected representatives still need to beg consent from the Prince of Wales before passing legislation deemed to affect his private interests. Which, given the amount he owns through the Duchy of Cornwall, encompasses a pretty wide range, including road safety, the environment, gambling, the London Olympics, and marine and coastal access. For example, consent was requested for changes in laws governing regional planning and contractual disputes with builders. Consent, please note, not assent: the latter (which the Queen gives to all legislation) being more of a formality. There could be no clearer illustration of the underlying truth about our country: we are subjects, not citizens.
The prince’s previously hidden veto might be a mere technicality if we didn’t know that Charles uses every ounce of influence and access to advance his views and interests, and that the deference of our political leaders virtually guarantees him a polite, if not always sympathetic, hearing. All other lobbyists and interest groups – from unions to animal welfare charities and arms manufacturers – compete for access, desperately hoping a minister will read their submissions or spare five minutes. Access is a precious commodity, causing companies and voluntary bodies to spend millions on professional lobbyists and sumptuous dinners. Prince Charles gets privileged access to any minister’s ear. Automatically, gratis. Moreover, he gets it secretly, since correspondence between ministers and royals is exempt from freedom of information laws.
This is the tip of a very large iceberg. To an extent unprecedented since his great-uncle David (later Edward VIII) held the title Prince of Wales, Charles seeks an active role in public affairs. His private handwritten letters to ministers, known in some quarters as “black spiders”, have covered subjects as diverse as genetically modified food, the Royal Ballet, fire exits in old people’s homes and, inevitably, the countryside, particularly hunting.
His campaign against the redevelopment of Chelsea barracks was described by a judge last year as “unwelcome interference” in a planning application. His private secretary, Sir Michael Peat, responded that the prince’s duty was “to make sure the views of ordinary people that might not otherwise be heard receive some exposure”, which echoes the tyrant’s age-old claim that he embodies the will of the people. Not that Charles has any immediate prospect or even intention of becoming a tyrant, but you see the drift of his thinking.
The most egregious example of how he abuses his position rarely attracts comment. Since 2007 his Prince’s Teaching Institute has promoted “the importance of in-depth subject knowledge” in English, history, science, geography and maths. Schools are invited to show “a clear commitment to subject specialism”, to state “objectives” for improving provision, and to report on progress. Those that satisfy the institute – subject department heads attend a summer school and submit themselves, a year later, for interview – receive its “school programme mark”, allowing use of the Prince of Wales feathers on their notepaper and website. More than 100 schools have passed muster, with the institute’s website currently describing Bexley grammar school in Kent (a county that still has the 11-plus) as “school of the week”.
With schools competing fiercely for parental custom, such branding carries real value. Charles has set himself up as an accrediting body, giving him direct influence over the curriculum. Many educationists question the merits of heavily subject-based teaching, and even more would question the emphasis on traditional academic subjects rather than, say, design and technology or media studies. Ther is no doubt what the prince was up to when the scheme was launched: it was “a fightback against trendy teaching”, and schools that wanted the royal imprimatur should “shun fashionable education theories”.
The prince’s views on education – he takes much of his advice from conservative figures such as the historian David Starkey and the journalist Melanie Phillips – may or may not reflect those of “ordinary people”. But it is hard to argue they are uncontroversial or lack “exposure”. The same can be said of his opinions on architecture, planning, the countryside and “green” issues generally. You may say his views can be ignored or dismissed as the ravings of an ageing and frustrated eccentric. But as well as access to ministers, all interest groups crave, and often buy, celebrity endorsement. Charles is among the biggest celebrities of all.
It is hard to blame him for trying to put the world to rights. Most of us would do the same if we had the chance and, through no fault of his own, Charles has very little else to do. Without a talent for sport, music, sculpture, scientific discovery or something of that sort (even bricklaying would do), an heir to the throne will be at a loose end, and Charles is not the first to attract criticism for how he occupies himself. But that is all the more reason for constraining him, and closing every little constitutional quirk that allows leeway. Republicanism might then finally triumph as future heirs decide to abdicate rather than die of boredom.