A jet carrying Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles touched down in the UK this afternoon, mercifully drawing a veil over the most disastrous royal tour in living memory.
Thanks to Charles’s extraordinary remark to a member of the public that President Putin, in Ukraine “is doing just about the same as Hitler,” the tour will go down in history as an ignominious disaster.
It is also a vivid illustration of why so many people believe Charles is not fit to be king, and why the reign of Charles III may well prove to be a gaffe-strewn disaster. Charles is a meddler (as his “black spider memos” to government ministers prove), and a meddler who can never be disabused of his own rightness, and who seems incapable of subsuming his I-know-best personality in the name of duty.
And, of course, Charles is not just the heir to the throne—the Palace has made it very clear over the past two years that the Monarchy is now effectively a job-share. Charles is making the big decisions. And now, just two years in, he has singlehandedly created a diplomatic firestorm.
Buckingham Palace is attempting to play down the bizarre outburst as a “private conversation” and has insisted that “the Prince of Wales would not seek to make a public political statement during a private conversation,” but a “public political statement” is ironically enough exactly what he has made.
Whether he did it intentionally or not matters not the least to the Kremlin, who have leapt on the comment to further inflame anti-Western sentiment at home.
There is a temptation to say, “Well, Charles is right, thank goodness someone has spoken their mind about Putin,” but before doing that, pause and consider one fact; 20 million Russians are estimated to have been killed during the war, including members of Mr. Putin’s family.
Russia’s actions in Ukraine may be unacceptable and frightening to the West, and Europeans in particular, but for a member of the royal family to compare Putin to Hitler is not only idiotic and wrong, but can only serve to stoke outrage against the West in Russia.
If you wonder why the Royal family are not allowed to make political remarks, you simply have to look at the way the Russians have pounced on the gaffe, determined to make as much political capital as they can out of it.
And now Russia has issued an official response, "If these words were truly spoken, then without doubt, they do not reflect well on the future British monarch," a spokesman for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
"We view the use of the Western press by members of the British Royal Family to spread the propaganda campaign against Russia on a pressing issue - that is, the situation in Ukraine - as unacceptable, outrageous and low."
A senior Russian ambassador has demanded—and been hastily given—a top-level appointment at the Foreign Office today. A Russian diplomatic source told the Telegraph: “We are seeking clarification at a working level. It’s not clear if it is an official position. The response from Clarence House is it was a private talk. We hope there is nothing behind it. But it is unclear to us: what does it mean? He is the future king, after all…It is very serious. Every family in our country lost someone in that war.”
The irony is that Chaz and Camila’s tour of Canada was widely predicted to be the most boring royal tour of all time (insert your own Canada joke here). The tour, comprising the usual mixture of visiting youth projects and commending good causes, was deemed to be of so little interest that the BBC and the Daily Telegraph both opted not to travel for it, but the deep-pocketed Daily Mail shelled out for the trip.
Their assiduous royal reporter Rebecca English, who must have asked 10,000 people over the course of her career what a royal just said to them (“He said it was lovely to be here…”) was finally rewarded for her persistence when a volunteer at the museum they were touring, mother-of-three Marienne Ferguson, told her: “I had finished showing him the exhibit and talked with him about my own family background and how I came to Canada. The prince then said “And now Putin is doing just about the same as Hitler”. I must say that I agree with him and am sure a lot of people do. I was very surprised that he made the comment as I know they [members of the Royal Family] aren’t meant to say these things but it was very heartfelt and honest. I told the prince that while my family and I were lucky to get a permit to travel, many of my other relatives had permits but were unable to get out before war broke out on September 1. They were sent to the concentration camps and died.”
For many in the UK, it’s a grim foreshadowing of how the reign of King Charles III will likely be colored by Charles’s interfering tendencies.
It is undoubtedly the most serious breach in modern times of the royal code of diplomatic impartiality—a crucial attribute of a constitutional monarch—and an error which casts serious doubts over Charles’s suitability for the role of monarch.
Many are also asking how on earth Charles could have made such a remark in a room he knew was crawling with journalists.
That alone makes it very different to the occasion when one of the Queen’s closest advisers leaked to the Sunday Times in 1986 that the Monarch thought Margaret Thatcher was “hard-hearted”, “uncaring’, “lacking in compassion” for the poor, “confrontational and socially divisive”.
The Queen was appalled.
It has also served as a grim reminder to some monarchists—this one included—of why Charles is utterly unsuited to the task of ruling. Charles is an opinionated, arrogant man, convinced always that he is right. And unlike his mother, he has now proved himself to be utterly incapable of subsuming his personal opinions in the line of duty.
Call me old-fashioned, but one rather expects one’s monarch to be an asset, not a liability.
Heaven help us when Charles sits on the throne.