Stick to the script, Charles, and leave propaganda to politicians

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PRINCES are not supposed to say that things should be changed. Like queens and grand dukes, they are meant to say that things are excellent - if never quite perfect - as they are. Improvement is always needed, but what already exists reflect credit on everyone. 'Jolly good show] Well, carry on then]'

Princes, in other words, are supposed to be conservative with a small 'c'. Conservatives, in turn, are assumed to be against change. But this is not always the case. Every so often, right-wing rhetoric turns inside-out. Preservers dress up as destroyers. Those who intend to hang on to what they have got suddenly start talking like revolutionaries. They get on soap- boxes and shout about breaking chains and overthrowing repressive elites.

Old Prince Fabrizio, in Lampedusa's The Leopard, understood exactly what such reversals mean. 'If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.' That was his view of a landlord's predicament in Sicily at a time of revolution. A similar reversal of rhetoric is practised today by British Tories, who have taken to a barricade-storming vocabulary about the dictatorship of the chattering classes and the tyranny of political correctness. Now, disastrously, Prince Charles has joined them. If only he understood this tactic with the irony and the lucidity of Prince Fabrizio of Salina]

Like John Major and Michael Portillo, and very much like Paul Johnson whose Wake Up Britain] pamphlet I described last week, Prince Charles tells us that this country has been hijacked by a small, fanatical, intolerant clique. This gang, after gagging the real feelings of the British people, proceeds to slander the native character of the nation and to denigrate its achievements. This is designed to reduce the population to hopeless cynicism. Then the clique imposes its own ideology on one department of national life after another, using moral terrorism to silence any remaining dissent.

But the resistance movement fights on. The plain folk of Britain will arise, and the storm of their suppressed anger will break forth. Then will come liberation, and Britain will return again to pride in its ancient, well-tried values.

It passes belief that this sort of tosh should be listened to for an instant. Who has been ruling this country for the last 15 years, and whose ideology is being systematically imposed upon one institution after another? Which clique is packing its chums onto quangos created to insulate government policies against democratic public opinion? Which self-opinionated cabal set out to change the self- understanding of the nation by enforcing a slanted version of history upon its children? Who polluted public confidence in the democratic process?

To ask those questions, which really need no answer, is to become aware of the true monstrousness and insolence of this propaganda trick. The idea that a left- wing orthodoxy - those 'chattering classes', or 'pseudo-intellectuals', or Prince Charles's 'avant- garde which has become the Establishment' - controls anything much in this country is too silly to be worth discussing. A phantom, an inner enemy, all the more dangerous for being so elusive, has been invented for us to hate.

Why? Because we have been living for so long in what is coming to resemble a one-party state. This has two consequences. The first is that an ambitious programme of laissez-faire upheaval has failed, creating widespread public despair. The second is that the decay of British institutions and the contamination of public values - the esprit des lois - can only be the fault of Tory decisions. Labour governments can no longer be blamed for them. So a new demon had to be introduced.

And there it hangs, glowing ominously in the dark like a hologram with no substance: the alien force of Political Correctness. The Government, desperate as its power drains away, has staged a pantomime of Britain under alien occupation, in which Conservatism must seek to overthrow rather than to preserve. But the occupiers are the Tories themselves, and their call to insurrection is a sham. 'If we want things to stay as they are, things have to change.'

If the Prince of Wales had really wanted to defend sound values, he should have kept clear of this programme of shameless fraud. He is not a politician. He does not have to pretend that the Groucho Club has seized power and debauched Britishness. He is an intelligent man who goes up and down the country, and he must be aware that people are demoralised by mass unemployment, by brutal egotism promoted to a state cult, by headlong centralisation of power at the expense of civic responsibility, by the systematic defaming of the idea of public interest - in short, by 15 years of Thatcherite and post-Thatcherite government.

As a matter of fact, this country used to know very well what it meant to be ruled, socially and politically, by an arrogant clique that considered it had a monopoly of wisdom. This was the Tory landed aristocracy, whose grip was slowly prised open through the 19th century but not finally broken until Lloyd George faced down the House of Lords in 1911. Last week, sorting out books, I found myself reading an article by William Cobbett, written for The Political Register in 1834, a year before he died. It put matters of tradition, heritage and public opinion in a very different light.

Cobbett was touring Ireland when he heard that the old Palace of Westminster had burnt down. He was delighted. He read it in a copy of the Morning Herald, a paper he despised. 'My insipid friend (the Herald) says that 'the Mob (meaning the people of London) when they saw the progress of the flames, raised a savage shout of exultation'. Did they indeed? The Herald exclaims: 'O unreflecting Mob]' Now, perhaps the Mob exulted because the Mob was really a reflecting mob. They might have reflected that it was in this House that . . .' and Cobbett then lists scores of oppressive, selfish pieces of legislation passed by those who controlled Parliament.

Cobbett thought the fire 'a Great Event . . . it makes the tongue the loud herald of the heart . . . Might not that people of London,' sneered at by 'the base crew of reporters, reeking with the heat of gin and always eager to libel their own suffering country', be perfectly accurate in their judgement of what that Parliament had done to them? For his part, 'I do not care one straw where the Parliament may meet; it may meet in a barn for aught I care.' Parliament would no doubt go on passing the same unjust laws, 'but it cannot do the same things in the same place, at any rate'.

In those days, offenders against Political Correctness were clapped in irons. The clique was real, and meant business. Today, once more, we have a 'suffering country'. To change it, we have only to go on voting as we voted in the local elections last week. But to ensure that 'things stay as they are', that we attack harmless phantoms instead of a real opponent, we have only to put our trust in ministers and princes.