I think it’s fair to say that Prince Charles and I don’t see eye to eye on much save for architecture. He, like me, prefers the more classical style of buildings rather than ones which look like vegetables or kitchen implements. And I also think his charity, The Prince’s Trust, is an excellent project which helps young people in real need at grass roots level.
But when it comes to the environment, our opinions diverge. That’s not to say I don’t adore the countryside; I am writing this article on my return from a post-lunch walk across the North Downs in Kent, which I try to do as much as I can.
I refer more towards his views on climate change. The Prince has given two speeches to the European Parliament in the past: The first and most memorable being when he called for the EU Institutions to have more legislative power. This was based upon his firm belief that climate change is man-made, and only the power of supranational institutions like the EU – with their two parliaments and MEPs knocking up millions of air miles every year – can stop that.
MEPs gave the heir to the throne a standing ovation after that speech, in which he declared that in 10 years’ time we would have no polar ice caps left. Well, that’s seven years ago and I haven’t seen any polar bears drifting down the Thames clinging to life rafts. Nor did I join in the standing ovation at the time, as I did not agree with what the Prince said. I also do not think it is appropriate for the heir to a constitutional monarchy to want to take power away from his mother’s government.
But given his nod and smile to me the second time he spoke to MEPs – on much the same subject – it strikes me that he is the kind of man who understands that people have different political opinions.
Which is just as well because I really can’t believe what he said about Vladimir Putin while in Canada. And to hear Nick Clegg brown-nosing was almost as vomit-inducing as the rose garden declaration in 2010. I bet my bottom dollar that if Prince Charles had said that Putin hadn’t done anything wrong and the EU shouldn’t be poking him with a big stick, we would have heard a collective gasp from Westminster as the chatterati fought to be the first to tweet that the heir to the throne should be seen and not heard.
I caused more than a few raised eyebrows when I said that I admired the Russian President as a statesman, even though I was clear that I did not agree with many of his policies. But in my opinion, comparing him to Adolf Hitler not only makes diplomatic relations awkward but diminishes the horrific suffering of millions of people across mainland Europe.
The First World War is more my area of expertise, but the only element of Putin’s current policy towards Ukraine which in any way reflects what happened in the 1930s is the Austrian Anschluss of 1938. The referendum held in eastern Ukraine might not be recognised by the international community, and might have doubtfully-high support for the area joining up with Russia. But Wehrmacht troops marched into Austria in March 1938 after the Austrian Nazi Party had cancelled the referendum on the creation of a “Greater Germany”, forbidden under the Versailles Treaty. But what elements of that Treaty were ever held up?
As I see it, the EU is the superpower trying to create its own empire, and what we have seen from Putin is not the creation of a “Greater Russia” but a country with its hackles up over the ever-creeping eastern border of the European Union. Back in the 1930s it was Hitler who wanted to undo the punishing post-Great War Treaty, which took lands away that the country had not actually lost in conflict: we should remember that in November 1918 the German front line was advanced from where it started in 1914.
Expansionist foreign policy from any country or organisation will naturally cause enmity in the areas affected. Land is finite and the annexation of one country means the diminished size of another.
It is often lauded by those with a passion for the EU – or with a lack of understanding of Cold War history – that the EU is the reason that we have had peace in Europe since 1945. Or to be more precise, the reason that Germany and France haven’t started bombing each other again.
But what they fail to understand is that the forcing together of nations without a mandate from the people inevitably ends with bloody fractures, as happened in the Balkans in the early 1990s, and as with the hostility as we are seeing in Ukraine.
One thing is for sure, though. If Ed Miliband thinks the weekly shopping bill is only £70 for a family of four he certainly can’t be buying any Duchy Originals biscuits.