Charles: King of the Legumes

Prince Charles exhorts us to renew our relationship with the planet, but he seems to have severed all connection with it himself
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The Independent Online
Prince Charles may be a free man, newly liberated from his actressy scheming wife but some things don't change. His first post-divorce speech was a dirge about organic farming delivered to the Soil Association. A worthy subject for the man who would be king, perhaps, though, even his admirers might have to admit, not the most exciting. Still Charles presses on with his various causes which flow into one vast cause called turning the clock back. Charles has never been at home with modernity though he denies living in the past. We should, he insists, learn from the past and adhere to timeless principles; timeless principles which presumably include hereditary privilege as well the "fertility-building regimes using legumes" that he spoke of last night.

I cannot be alone in feeling that Charles's grasp on reality, never strong, is slipping. Put it down to media pressure if you like, as some do, though for my part I think this is merely wishful thinking. He has always been fairly mad. Like the obsessive at the bus stop he feels that his preoccupations are worth thrusting upon the nation when they are not. He has been encouraged to believe that his vague meanderings on a variety of subjects are a valid form of self-employment. Why doesn't someone tell him that if we wanted to hear a speech by Jonathon Porritt we would go to the man himself.

Porritt, one of Charles's advisers, is surely responsible for some of the more technical aspects of the speech. Other ramblings about Nature and a Sense of the Sacred must be Charles's own special creation.

As always, what Charles feels in some abstract way doesn't work out in practice. His passion for organic farming does not extend to helping his tenant framers at the Duchy of Cornwall, who need their rents reduced in order to make the expensive transition to organic farming workable. Can the Prince simply not afford to put his principles into practice, or he is simply ignorant of the way his land is managed?

A long passage of the speech is devoted to his worries about GMOs - that's genetically modified organisms for the uninitiated. "Of course, biotechnology, release of GMOs , call it what you will, is a particularly emotive subject, and I do not intend to stoke those emotions tonight." What emotions? The fact is that the Prince himself is a genetically modified organism if ever there was one, selectively bred in order to simply go on sustaining his kind. He even quotes the government Panel on Sustainable Development, "Once released ... a GMO cannot be recalled: the action is irreversible." Terrifying.

It is hardly surprising that the current focus of Charles's obsessions should be sustainable development and genetic engineering. He is after all part of the Way Forward group which meets in order to produce a strategy to preserve the monarchy. Genetic engineering makes him nervous possibly because it is too close to home. We should, he warned us, fear the consequences of introducing self-replicating organisms into the environment. Believe me, Charles, we already do.

It may be as boring as one of his speeches to keep pointing the finger at his hypocrisy. Yet the reason that we cannot take seriously Charles's claim to the moral high ground is because if he ever caught a glimpse of it, he would immediately denounce it as a some newfangled carbuncle that was spoiling the view of his beloved countryside. While John Major tries to find a moral basis for his humdrum little policies, Charles appeals to the greater good, to the goddess herself - Gaia - to fuel his arguments. Most people, however, understand the notion of sustainability in basic terms as not taking out more than you put in. Sustainability is connected implicitly to notions of quality of life as well as equality. There is nothing sustainable about the way that Charles lives his life. He doesn't plough back his vast resources back into the land. He is hardly frugal, he does nothing to make the world a better place - unless you count these endless pontifications which give sustenance to few but are mostly regarded as like having to put up with an embarrassing uncle.

To talk of the connection between food production, health and the environment is, of course, worthwhile but we have enough experts telling us what should be done and unless the economic will is there to do it then it just can't be done. After BSE, doom-mongering may be easier than ever but it is hardly the Way Forward. Charles identifies the key moral and ethical watershed that genetic engineering has brought about and says that we venture "into realms that belong to God and God alone". This gets us precisely nowhere. Decisions are already being made all the time in these areas and we cannot simply ignore them.

Just as complicated a moral issue is the one of cheap food. Charles claims we are paying many hidden environmental costs by using intensive agricultural methods in order to produce inexpensive food stuffs. Without such methods the poor, the ill and the old could not afford to eat the things they do. Are people prepared to sacrifice short-term choice for long-term benefit? Maybe. Are they prepared to pay three times the price for their pork chops? No.

The spectacle of this bewildered millionaire talking about the possibility of increasing the price of food in the Third World surely leaves a bad taste in someone's mouth if not his. Diana may have been criticised for ambulance-chasing and homing in on hapless patients to exploit their suffering but at least she did it on a one-to-one basis. Her ex-husband prefers to think big and make everyone suffer because of it.

Charles does need to think seriously about sustainability. His own. He ends his speech to the Soil Association encouraging us to look with fresh eyes at the relationships between ourselves and our planet. But should he for the first time in his life exhibit any degree of self-awareness he might realise that he has become discredited not just because he effectively left his wife for his mistress, not because of vast republican sentiment but because, for all his professed concern for the planet, he appears increasingly to have severed any connection with it some time ago.