Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.

Prince Charles tried to persuade government ‘to change course’

Former ministers have revealed the ‘influence’ the heir has had on past government policies

The Prince of Wales tried to influence Tony Blair’s government on issues such as grammar schools, alternative medicine and GM food.

Former education secretary David Blunkett has spoken about Prince Charles’ attempts to expand grammar schools, and how he “didn’t like” it when his suggestion was refused.

Mr Blunkett, along with ex-ministers Peter Hain and Michael Meacher, have all spoken about their interactions with Prince Charles during their time in Mr Blair’s government, while former Prime Minister Sir John Major has revealed the influence the Queen had on his own government policies, in a BBC Radio 4 documentary called The Royal Activist.

“I would explain that our policy was not to expand grammar schools, and he didn’t like that,” Mr Blunkett, who was education secretary from 1997 to 2001, told the programme.

Mr Blunkett added: “He was very keen that we should go back to a different era where youngsters had what he would have seen as the opportunity to escape from their background, whereas I wanted to change their background.”

Despite not agreeing with the Prince’s views on education, Mr Blunkett said that he “didn’t mind” the interference.

“I can see constitutionally that there’s an argument that the heir to the throne should not get involved with controversy; the honest truth is I didn’t mind. If you are waiting to be the king of the United Kingdom, and you’ve waited a very long time, you genuinely have to engage with something or you’d go spare.”

The programme airs at a time when the Guardian is locked in a legal battle with the government over its blocking of the release of Prince Charles’s “black spider memos”, which are his personal letters sent to government ministers, and which have gained their name due to the character of the Princes scrawled handwriting.

The release of the letters has been continually blocked for nine years, while ministers have claimed that revealing their contents to the public would be damaging for the Prince as it could undermine his “position of political neutrality as heir to the throne”.

Michael Meacher, the former environment minister who admitted he shared similar views with the Prince on subjects such as climate change and genetically modified crops, has told the BBC programme that he and the Prince “would consort together quietly” on policies and that they worked together “to try and ensure we increased our influence with the government”.

Mr Meacher said: “I knew that he largely agreed with me and he knew that I largely agreed with him.

“We were together in trying to persuade Tony Blair to change course,” he said.

The former environment minister said that he could see the argument for there being a constitutional problem with the Prince demonstrating political stances, but that even though the Prince may have been “pushing it a bit,” Meacher himself was “delighted, of course”.

But republicans have hit out at the revelations, claiming that the royal family should “stay out of politics completely”.

Campaign group Republic, which fights for the abolition of the monarchy, called any royal influence on public policy “unacceptable”.

Graham Smith, chief executive of the campaign group, told the BBC: “The deal with the monarchy is that the royals stay out of politics completely and these revelations just prove what we’ve been saying all along, which is that they are involving themselves, influencing public policy, and that is completely unacceptable in a democratic society.”

Prince Charles’s penchant for alternative medicine was also one of the areas of policy that felt his influence, which the former Labour cabinet minister Peter Hain has described as an area that they both agreed on.

Mr Hain said: “He had been constantly frustrated at his inability to persuade any health ministers anywhere that that was a good idea, and so he, as he once described to me, found me unique from this point of view, in being somebody who actually agreed with him on this, and might want to deliver it.”

He added: “When I was secretary of state for Northern Ireland in 2005-7, he was delighted when I told him that since I was running the place I could more or less do what I wanted to do. I was able to introduce a trial for complementary medicine on the NHS, and it had spectacularly good results, that people’s well-being and health was vastly improved.”

Sir John Major has defended the Prince’s tendency to write to ministers “in a way that is invariably intended to be helpful,” and that “to cut that off, or to make sure those letters are much more bland than they otherwise might be, would be a loss”.

He spoke of his own experiences of being influenced by the Queen, and said that while he expected every prime minister could think of a time when they had been impressed upon by the Queen, he said that “it would be very foolish indeed not to be influenced”.