It's nature's way to talk out of turn

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The Independent Online
God bless the Prince of Wales! Last week he waded into the debate on GM foods, demanding: "Are we going to allow the industrialisation of Life itself, redesigning the natural world for the sake of convenience and embarking on an Orwellian future?" His article in the Daily Mail echoed the concerns of millions of ordinary people, who share his anxiety about "tampering with Nature". It is not even as though GM food will benefit hungry people in developing countries, he wrote, because shortage of food is rarely the cause of starvation. "It is more likely to be lack of money to buy food, distribution problems or political difficulties."

His article has been posted on his website, which also features pieces about the evolving role of the Prince of Wales: "He saw a need to tackle the growing problem of the disadvantaged and of social exclusion, particularly among the young, which he felt he could help to meet by using the influence of his unique position." Curiously, there is no reference on the website to the other piece of news about Prince Charles which emerged last week. This is the revelation in EuroBusiness magazine that he is the sixth richest royal in Europe; his fortune, which the magazine estimates at just under pounds 300m, puts him one place above the Queen in the league table. The Windsors' combined wealth is said to be pounds 4.15bn, yet the cost to the taxpayer of maintaining the British royal family is "more than the expenses of all the other [European] royal families combined".

The fact that we are saddled with an expensive, penny-pinching royal family is bad enough. That Prince Charles, who is a choice example of the unequal distribution of wealth and resources, should lecture the rest of us on the causes of hunger beggars belief. "Whenever and wherever they live," according to the economist Susan George, "rich people eat first; they eat a disproportionate amount of the food there is and poor ones rarely rise in revolt against this most basic of oppressions unless specifically told to 'eat cake'." There is something distinctly Marie-Antoinetteish about Prince Charles lecturing the poor and hungry about GM foods, as though their most pressing problem is whether or not to have GM courgettes for supper.

But why is the Prince writing for the Daily Mail? Last week's intervention has been widely interpreted as an attack on the Government, which has insisted for months that GM food is safe. Yet the only reason anyone listens to the Prince of Wales is his position as future head of state, a role which is supposed to be firmly above politics. On this occasion, he happens to have said something which reflects the national mood, a circumstance which deflects attention from the impropriety of his speaking at all.

What if he had come out in favour of GM food? Would we feel so comfortable if he had written an article defending female genital mutilation on the grounds that it is a traditional practice in some African countries? What we know about the Prince's opinions - and we already know far too much in my view - is that he is as conservative, as reactionary, as the institution he represents. His views on architecture would, if carried to their logical conclusion, turn Britain into a heritage theme park. His views on nature - sorry, "Nature" - reveal a soppy anthropomorphism which would be embarrassing in a sixth-form essay. Nature as a benevolent deity, you know the sort of thing. Whereas any fule kno that nature is also responsible for leprosy, plague and gangrene.

Charles is not elected, nor a member of the Government, although his website is accessed, mysteriously, at He has always struck me as dim and pompous, an observation which usually provokes angry letters claiming it is unfair to criticise the royals because "they can't answer back". This is complete tosh, as evidenced by the skilful PR campaign which followed publication in the Sun of an ancient photograph of Prince Edward's fiancee. It also ignores the influence that the royals still have, and which Prince Charles is all too ready to exploit.

His recent interventions have been, from a PR point of view, populist and well timed. No doubt, as someone who dabbles in farming, he disapproves of GM food. But it certainly hasn't done him any harm to say so. Not long ago he had a serious image problem as the man who cheated on the most beautiful woman in the world, etc. Now he speaks for Britain. What this demonstrates is the convenience of the hereditary principle: whatever he says, Charles knows he will never face an election in which, in a moment of temporary but richly deserved unpopularity, he might be booted out.