For all the fuss over interference, there's nothing in Prince Charles' letters that we don't already know

And what the Prince thinks or does is of little practical importance


Nearly always we know more than we think we know. Indeed, the overwhelming problem in the internet age is the availability of too much information rather than too little. And yet our appetite for more on topics when we already know enough is apparently insatiable.

Take the furore over the Attorney-General's decision not to publish letters from Prince Charles to ministers in the last Labour government, the latest example of a wider paranoia about information and its availability. Publication would do no more than confirm what we know already. The explanation from Dominic Grieve, the Attorney-General, was itself a stark confirmation that the Prince has strongly held opinions that he expressed to Tony Blair and other ministers. He explained that the Prince's "particularly frank" views could cast doubt on his political neutrality. It was in the national interest to ban publication "because if he forfeits his position of political neutrality as heir to the throne, he cannot easily recover it when he is king".

Grieve's verdict serves to reinforce the scale of the forfeiture, a candid admission that publication would expose the Prince as someone who on various issues cannot resist aligning himself with one side rather than the other. Those views have been public for years, on farming, hunting, architecture and environmental policies. Alastair Campbell's diaries imply that the Prince's allies might have leaked a letter from him to Tony Blair in which he wrote that if the government banned hunting, he might as well go skiing all year round. It appeared in The Mail on Sunday. Campbell quotes Blair noting that Charles had been captured by a "few very right-wing people". Blair knew a thing or two about right-wing people and was happy to hang around with a few himself, so the Prince's friends must have been very right wing indeed to provoke such an observation.

A Prince's Revenge

Blair's best-selling memoir was explicit about Charles's intervention in relation to the hunting ban: "He thought the ban was absurd and raised the issue with me in a slightly pained way." More widely, Blair noted: "Prince Charles truly knew the farming community and felt we didn't understand it." In a typical Blair-like twist, these minor revelations were no act of anti-establishment insurrection. Blair made clear he agreed with the Prince on hunting and thought he had a point in relation to his government's failure to understand farming. Blair revealed the Prince's lobbying against government policy while agreeing with the Prince. The most revealing part was how relatively relaxed Blair was about persistent princely interventions, not just because he agreed with them.

But a Prince obliged constitutionally to be impartial is powerless in the end to shape public opinion compared with newspapers and the rest. The Prince's revenge did not take the form of policy triumphs but in the fact that neither Blair nor Gordon Brown were invited to his son's wedding last year, a puny but harmless act of spite. Again, we know what happened. We saw it – the other former Tory PMs rolling up for the big day and the two out of power Labour PMs nowhere to be seen.

What we do not know is whether the Queen clings on in post because of concerns about her elder son's suitability, but we never will and some of us do not care. The publication of his letters to ministers would not answer that one.


Yet in this anti-politics era there is a widespread assumption that information is always malevolently suppressed and we all wander around in a state of manipulated ignorance. There was something about the over-excitement of the WikiLeaks' "revelations" that suggested the act of defiant publication conferred breathtaking significance on the substance of the documents. Frankly, a lot of them were unsurprising.

Meanwhile, we ignore what is in front of our eyes. The Charles affair is relatively trivial. What he thinks and does is of little practical significance. But one of the more striking dimensions of the Savile affair is how much was already out in public, not just in relation to him but others, too. I recall Louis Theroux asking Savile about rumours of paedophilia during his documentary. How did he have the confidence to pose the question? On what were the rumours based? I ask the questions now and yet did not do so at the time. Newspapers yesterday reported that John Simpson's memoir contained a passage about a BBC household name from decades ago who abused children. Only now does a section from a widely publicised memoir that has been around for years become a news story.

I doubt even if the unpublished texts and emails from David Cameron to Rebekah Brooks were published we would know much more than we do already. Instead, there is a danger we forget what we do know in getting too worked up about what we do not, from the emails of Jeremy Hunt's former adviser when he was Culture Secretary to the horrifying testimonies from those who had lives wrecked through the activities of some out-of-control newspapers. I would love to read the Cameron emails, but we already know the level of social intimacy between him and Brooks and the context in relation to the BSkyB bid.

The late Peter Jenkins, the brilliant columnist for The Independent in the era when only a few mighty writers performed the task, suggested that his job was to make sense of the "torrent" of haphazard information available. He was writing in 1970, long before the internet and an expanded media. We must always be alert to the self-interested suppression of information but the bigger worry, from Prince Charles to Savile and on to hacking, is that we fail to reflect and act on what we already know.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Riyadh is setting itself up as region’s policeman

Lina Khatib
Ed Miliband and David Cameron  

Cameron and Miliband should have faith in their bolder policies

Ian Birrell
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor