So, now we know why Prince Charles and the government fought so hard to get his letters to ministers suppressed.
It is the sheer sense of entitlement, the arrogance and the usually-fulfilled expectation of obedience that oozes from every typewritten word of the second and final cache of letters, released last week.
In the first batch of letters, dating from 2004—2005, which were released last month, Charles actually came across as well-briefed and largely respectful of the elected ministers he was addressing.
The difference of tone in this second batch, written between 2006 and 2009, is marked. Charles appears to be significantly emboldened by the passage of time.
The tone is simultaneously hectoring, demanding, victimized, and arrogant; Charles manages to convey both an expectation that anything other than automatic deference to him would constitute lèse-majesté, and a sense of bafflement that his plainly entirely reasonable, nay ‘splendid’ plans even require further discussion before implementation.
He also, somewhat hilariously, gets a case of the ‘poor me’s’ in one letter, perceiving a conspiracy by the establishment against him.
He complains about the “waves of invective” he has endured “over the years from parts of the Medical and Scientific Establishments (sic)” regarding his views on alternative medicine.
Charles comes across as a confused and confusing cross between a pernickety, detail-obsessed former headmaster and a trendy vicar who has just picked up Eckhart Tolle, but got no further than Chapter One.
The tone of the letters is just as incendiary as the specific demands. At their most brazen, these demands include putting one of his own staffers into the office of the minister for housing as part of a proposed ‘exchange of secondees’.
Although a source tells The Daily Beast that Charles has appeared “utterly unconcerned” since this second series of letters were released under Freedom of Information legislation last week, and the Prince’s people have made it clear he plans to continue his ‘heartfelt interventions’ into the public realm, there can be little doubt that Charles has been revealed by the new batch of letters to have used his influence totally inappropriately, and in defiance of accepted constitutional norms, even if we accept British political theorist Walter Bagehot’s suggested rights of the constitutional monarch: the right to be consulted, the right to advise, and the right to warn.
One of Charles’s main goals seems to have been the full-scale integration of alternative medicine into Britain’s mainstream, publicly-funded National Health Service (NHS).
And we are not just talking about the odd cup of dandelion tea here. Charles airily called for spending cuts at three existing NHS homeopathic hospitals to be reversed, in utter disregard of complex budgetary calculations performed by local primary care trusts.
Complementary and alternative medicine—described as ‘quackery’ and ‘witchcraft’ by the British Medical Association, of which he was once, controversially, president—has long been known to be one of the Prince’s pet hobby horses.
While many normal people (who might not necessarily believe that talking to one’s plants would help them grow, as the Prince claimed in a 1986 interview) would have sympathy with the Prince’s arguments that complementary medicine should form part of an ideal national health service, it is equally clear that a successful outcome to Charles’s concerted lobbying campaign to have such treatments brought into the NHS would require a root and branch rethink of how the Health Service operated and was funded in the UK.
For him to suggest it should be done because he thinks it is a good idea, because he thinks the evidence stacks up, is breathtaking, yet entirely of a part with the arrogance of a man who believes he has a divine right to rule, despite massive unpopularity.
In many ways, the letters attest to Charles’s sense of himself as the last great divinely-destined monarch. He may not be the Mad King of Game of Thrones, but there is evidenced a certain lack of detachment from reality, an almost Brahman-like belief in his own teachings that bodes ill when one considers the tongue-biting humility required for a successful reign of a constitutional monarch.
Let us remember that the whole point of a constitutional monarch is that they do not set policy, but in the most damning letter—to then-Health Secretary Alan Johnson—this is exactly what Charles seeks to do. He offhandedly calls for a pilot of alternative medicines in the NHS in England.
“I mentioned the work that is underway in Northern Ireland and it would be splendid if you felt it might be possible to replicate this exploratory integrated project on the mainland, perhaps as a choice pilot? Do let me know what you think of these various projects…”
What would happen to the letter of anyone else in the land who wrote to the Health Secretary with such a set of “splendid” proposals is not hard to imagine. But Charles was, of course, dignified with a reply, and, incredibly, Johnson told him: “I will consider your suggestion of an exploratory project in England.”
Unfortunately the FOI legislation has now been tightened up, meaning no further letters of Charles’s to government ministers will be published, but we can be quite sure that given such encouragement this was not the last Mr. Johnson heard from the Prince on the matter of homeopathy in the NHS.
Prince Charles is supposed to maintain strict neutrality on political matters as heir to the throne, so there can be little doubt that this was a completely inappropriate use of his position.
Rob Evans, the Guardian journalist whose heroic persistence led to the letters being published, wrote on Friday, “Charles has long been accused of meddling in matters of government, but, aside from a few leaks, the public knew little of what he had actually been doing. He was alleged to be sending to ministers a stream of letters, dubbed the black spider memos because of his scrawly handwriting, but the public were not allowed to read them, or even know how many he was writing.
“And that ultimately what this long battle has been all about—to see what the heir to the throne has been telling ministers in private, and how those ministers have reacted.”
Everybody in the UK should fall to their knees and thank Evans for shining a light on the wheedling ways of Prince Charles when it comes to his attempts to influence public policy.
It is impossible to imagine the Queen attempting to meddle in the running of the NHS in the manner her son has.
In one letter, Charles actually suggested that serving locally-sourced organic vegetables to hospital patients would be an appropriate use of resources. And then, while he was at it, he lightly proposed that this ‘highly imaginative’ idea could be extended to “schools and other public sector bodies”.
Well, why not, eh? Jolly good idea, what?
But, has the man ever seen the prices at an organic farmer’s market, one wonders?
The minister responds, as he always does, promising (wearily?) that he will “certainly look at these projects.”
Charles’s office was quick to point out he was only “expressing concern about issues that he has raised in public” in the letters.
Indeed. He has had the opportunity to do so many, many times.
Charles has a powerful platform from which to make his views known. No newspaper editor would ever refuse his op-eds. Publishers line up to bring out his books.
So why can’t he just leave his contributions to the national debate at that?
One thing is clear—Charles should now end the practice of sending secret letters to government ministers.