Leading Article: Genetics and the Monarchy

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The Independent Culture
The last laugh

ALMOST EVERY article ever written on the Internet has contained one common theme: as the information age takes over, so we will see the gradual disappearance of the book and the printed word. What delicious irony it is, therefore, that the only runaway commercial success on the Net is the American online book shop, Amazon.com - which proudly boasts that it can find any out-of-print title. How passe! Its success, and the news that WH Smith, purveyor of that recherche phenomenon, the book, has just bought Amazon's British challenger, Bookshop.co.uk, are no doubt explained by the more accurate description of the two sites' prefix, www, as "world- wide wait".

FIRST ARCHITECTURE, now genetic engineering. Truly, the Prince of Wales is a Renaissance man. He is, of course, perfectly right to observe that we need much more information about the effects - or lack of them - of genetically engineered food. But we have to wonder whether the Prince of Wales is really the man to tell us.

The monarchy is living in turbulent times. It has just about recovered from the knock it took in the aftermath of the Princess of Wales's death. But the very foundation of the monarchy - the hereditary principle - was set on the path towards abolition in the House of Lords yesterday. Prince Charles is an intelligent man, with a range of interesting opinions. He of all people should be able to see the danger of using his position - acquired by that same hereditary principle - to float controversial views. Tempting as it must be for him, he should keep quiet. The monarchy is, if it has any relevance to the world today, a symbol of the nation. As such, it must be above all controversy. It must indeed be difficult for the Prince to live with the knowledge that the one thing he must not do is share his views with us. But if he feels able to tell us today what he thinks about genetics, what is to stop him moving on to the homeless tomorrow, or fiscal policy the day after? He appears to see his role as being to initiate debate. He is wrong. When Emperor Akihito refused to apologise for Japanese war crimes many commentators sneered. But under the Japanese constitution he is quite clearly unable to say anything in the least political. Prince Charles should take a leaf out of his fellow royal's book.