The Prince of Wales has blundered into a new political row by backing an attempt by David Cameron to upstage Gordon Brown.
Mr Cameron's aides say that Prince Charles's charity, the Prince's Trust, is "enthusiastic" about Tory plans for a new volunteer corps. The Tory leader will unveil proposals next month to send school leavers from well-off backgrounds to help with projects such as improving run-down inner-city estates.
Representatives from the Prince's Trust have met senior Tories and have allowed its name to be used in association with the scheme, which is being nicknamed Cameron's Corps. However, the new scheme is being seen by Gordon Brown as a direct attempt to upstage his own proposals for a national volunteer scheme, likely to be unveiled in the Budget on 22 March.
The Chancellor's allies accused the Prince yesterday of being naive in allowing his name to be dragged into what is a looming political battle. "The judgement call that has to be made is whether he is being exploited," said one senior source.
The row comes after a week in which one of Prince Charles's former aides told a court that the heir thought of himself as a "dissident" against the "prevailing political consensus".
The Prince's opinion of Tony Blair and his senior ministers was revealed when a judge ordered the release of a journal written at the time of the hand-over of Hong Kong. "They take decisions based on market research and focus groups," Prince Charles wrote.
Paddy Harverson, the Prince's press secretary, came close to voicing overt support for Mr Cameron earlier this year when he said that the new Tory leader had had an "amazing" first month in office. The latest sign of princely approval for the Conservatives follows reports of a "meeting of minds" between Prince Charles and Mr Cameron.
"You couldn't put a wafer between them on most of the big issues," a source recently told The Sunday Telegraph. Mr Cameron's aides are unapologetic, however. "This will be Cameron's Conservatism in action, in the real world," a Tory insider has said. "Gordon Brown has been spinning and re-announcing the same scheme for years, while Cameron will just go ahead and do it."
A spokesman for the Prince's Trust said: "This absolutely does not constitute party political support. The Prince's Trust works with more than 250 organisations, including all government parties and voluntary sector partners, to help young people who need our support most.
"The Prince's Trust was invited by the Conservative Party to attend a public meeting with a group of other charities and voluntary sector organisations."