The Emperor's New Clothes (17/02/13)

That Prince Charles – never done a real job and sticking his nose in all over.... Good thing too, says Matthew Bell

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The Prince of Wales has already presented the TV weather; now he's doing Countryfile. It's a natural progression, and one day he might get his own show, And What Do You Do? Conversations from the Hothouse. But wait – it's all too easy to poke fun at the Queen's heir. It's become a default reaction, like laughing off a Boris blunder. Is it fair, though?

For while the Queen has attained Clare Balding status, beloved now even of Woman's Hour; and Prince William – with his flawless wife, and Chelsea bun in the oven – is a model of nobility; the dinner-party position on Charles is that he's a dangerous buffoon, who'll make a terrible king. In fact, the evidence suggests otherwise.

Here is a man who has had plenty of time to think things through, and who cares enough about the big issues to risk voicing an opinion. On the environment, food, urban planning – Charles speaks out against the paper-clip panjandrums who claim to know best. The fear is that, when he accedes to the throne, we will lose a benign diplomat and gain a tin-pot meddler, firing off royal edicts like the bad days of Henry VIII.

Yes, he writes letters, and yes, he says what he thinks. But Charles is no radical. He is deeply conservative, and just wants to keep everything as he loves it: old buildings, communities, pot plants. He actually cares about what a new block of flats in Chelsea will look like, he minds that farmers are going to the wall.

Last week, he got behind an old-fashioned fishmonger threatened with closure by the council for causing a smell. Not many multimillionaires would take the trouble.

What the Prince of Wales's critics seem to mind is that he has conviction. But isn't that exactly what we wish more of our leaders had? Isn't it because our political parties are on the same beige Farrow & Ball colour swatch that we have this unhappy coalition squabbling over a muddy middle ground? The sad truth of the age of PR is that in order to survive in public life, you are better off saying nothing. Just look at the Queen. Whatever you think of his views, at least the reign of the next monarch will bring fireworks.

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