A rare dialogue between Prince and people

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We are witnessing something bizarre, half-welcome and perhaps without precedent. A dialogue of sorts has been started between the heir to the throne and his future subjects. Last week, the contents of a personal memo were made public in court, in which Prince Charles criticised child-centred education for giving young people the idea that they could become celebrities and top professionals without putting in the necessary hard work. His words were interpreted as an attack on those who harboured aspirations beyond their appointed station.

We are witnessing something bizarre, half-welcome and perhaps without precedent. A dialogue of sorts has been started between the heir to the throne and his future subjects. Last week, the contents of a personal memo were made public in court, in which Prince Charles criticised child-centred education for giving young people the idea that they could become celebrities and top professionals without putting in the necessary hard work. His words were interpreted as an attack on those who harboured aspirations beyond their appointed station.

Today, in remarks widely publicised in advance, the Prince answers back. While admitting to being "old fashioned", he will tell a gathering of Anglican dignitaries that his views were misinterpreted. "Not everyone has the same talents or abilities," he will say, "but everyone, with the right nurturing, can make a real difference to their communities and to the country." He will also say that it is "just as great an achievement" to be a plumber or bricklayer, as it is to be a lawyer or doctor.

That the Prince and his advisers have clearly heeded the furore his memo precipitated is welcome evidence that they are not completely cut off from the rest of us. His advisers, at least, must have realised how damaging it was to the Prince, as the future monarch, to seem to be endorsing a view of the world in which social mobility was disruptive and undesirable.

So one cheer for the Prince. In trying to "clarify" the views expressed in his memo, however, he has addressed only the one charge: that he doubted the ability of most young people to engage in the hard work needed to attain their ambitions. He does not address the more serious charge: that in his view, everyone's place in society is pre-ordained. Indeed, his remark about plumbers and lawyers could be interpreted as reinforcing it.

The question must also be asked: where is anyone - a Prince included - more likely to reveal his innermost thoughts? In a memo he believed would remain confidential, or in a speech he has advertised to the media? It was less the remarks themselves to which we took exception, than the view of the Prince's world that they betrayed.

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