Here we go again. Another pampered public figure with more status than sense has gone to court to demand recompense for the privacy he claims was violated by the media. But what began as a lawsuit about whether The Mail on Sunday breached the privacy of the Prince of Wales when it printed his stolen musings has rapidly become something else.
This case has taken wing not as the latest instalment of the unresolved debate about privacy, but as a discussion about the constitutional responsibilities of the heir to the throne and his right to express his differences with the government of the day. And the instant verdict from the great, the good and the thinking classes -speedier than the verdict of the court - has been that the next king should jolly well stop trying to be a one-man Opposition and should keep any dissident thoughts to himself.
They say that the Prince has abused his privileged position by lobbying ministers and others on issues such as architecture, GM food and the teaching of history, and this takes him indecently close to meddling in party politics. They then conclude that for the Prince to be associated with oppositionist views could undermine his position as monarch and expose him to charges of hypocrisy if he has to read a King's speech expounding policies at odds with his own.
Which would be fair enough - if it mattered. But it doesn't - at least not in the ways his myriad critics maintain. It does not matter, first, because the Prince is not yet King. He is the heir to the throne, who has been waiting the whole of his adult life to come into his inheritance. Having decided against a military or diplomatic career, he had to find something to do. And if that something includes not only the widely praised Prince's Trust, but cultivating unconventional gurus and imbibing alternative views, should anyone really be worried?
When he writes to MPs or ministers, of course, his headed notepaper testifies to his privilege. But ministers receive lobbying letters all the time, not only from lowly constituents, but from corporations and charities that wield considerably more clout in the real world than the son and heir of the monarch. That his has so often been a lone voice (the "monstrous carbuncle" speech about architecture, for instance) and that he has pursued so many lone ventures (Poundbury village) suggests that ministers know how to deal with his interventions.
The point is that the legislature, the executive and the Crown have reached a practical arrangement that largely reflects the real power that each wields today. A Prince of Wales enjoys a little influence and no power. So long as he is not betraying the national interest, there is no reason to become too exercised with either the company he keeps or his lobbying.
The more or less satisfactory accommodation attained between the various branches of power is one glorious consequence of not having a written constitution. It is also why there is no need for undue concern, still less horror, about the implications for a future King Charles who may have to present a government programme he disagrees with.
Queen Elizabeth II is regarded as a paragon of discretion, who limits her political observations to her weekly meetings with the Prime Minister. But 20 years ago there were well-sourced reports that she disagreed vehemently with Margaret Thatcher on a range of policies, from sanctions against South Africa, to the role of the Commonwealth and what she regarded as the Conservative government's lack of compassion. It was never clear whether this was an unwelcome leak or a calculated move by the Palace to make its criticism known.
The sky did not fall in over these subsequently denied observations from the Palace. Nor would it, if the words of a future King's speech at the state opening of Parliament conflicted with the known views of the erstwhile Prince of Wales. Assuming, of course, that was still a King's speech and laws still required royal assent. Ministers' use of royal prerogatives is on the agenda of the new Conservative leader's "democracy task force". A review of the powers of the monarch need not be far away.
In constitutional terms, it matters not a whit whether the Prince's dissident views see the light of day. In public relations terms, however, it could matter a great deal - and improve his awkward image no end. Some of his sharpest critics sheepishly admit to sharing some of his views, while counselling him to be more discreet. (That his rather colourful remarks about China did become public, of course, was contrary to his wishes - which is why the Prince went to court, but that is another issue.)
So why should the Prince not speak out more? Why should he not announce that he is boycotting the Chinese banquet for political reasons, rather than merely dropping hints? Why should he not brief reporters, on or off the record? Everyone else does. And why should he be so coy about establishing ideological distance between Clarence House and Buckingham Palace? There are crowds of people in this country who would agree with a lot of what the Prince has so far confided only to his diaries. And while some of his views may be antediluvian, others - his greenery - show him to be a child of his age. Let him write. Let him speak, let him blog. Bring on www.charles-rex.com.