Republicans are fond of describing Prince Charles as one of their chief assets.
They are right to do so. Reports that members of his staff have been working full-time in Whitehall – in departments in which the Prince has an express interest – have angered ministers and again raised the question of whether the Prince has any proper understanding of his constitutional position and the limits this imposes on interference in politics. The fact that it follows on from reports of a sharp increase in the number of private meetings between the Prince and ministers can only fuel suspicions in people’s minds that the heir to the throne is an obsessive meddler.
The Prince certainly has form here. He was embarrassed – or should have been – when freedom-of-information requests a few years ago revealed the extent of his private correspondence with ministers in Gordon Brown’s cabinet on matters ranging from hospital design to the housing supply. There soon followed a storm over the Prince’s intervention with the Emir of Qatar, which resulted in the Qataris blocking Richard Rogers’s redevelopment of the Chelsea Barracks in London, a pyrrhic victory that prompted several leading architects to sign an open letter accusing the Prince of abusing his position.
One of Prince Charles’s problems, paradoxically, is the popularity of his mother, which seems to have persuaded him that however much obloquy he attracts, the monarchy will carry on regardless. If this is his reasoning, it is faulty. The number of diehard royalists may be significant but their ranks are dwarfed by those who judge the system on its merits, and who are not persuaded of the merits of politically ambitious princes and kings. Charles risks becoming the monarchy’s grave-digger, before he even becomes a monarch.