The Charles and Tony show

There is much common ground between PM and Prince, but what about the differences? asks John Rentoul
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The Independent Online
The full guest list was kept secret, so we have been deprived of some of the really important details, such as whether there was a side- conversation between Cherie and Camilla on the joys of hunting. But the Prince of Wales did entertain Tony Blair to dinner at St James's Palace 18 months ago.

They talked about education, which was not surprising, as the then Leader of the Opposition had just re-launched Labour's policy on the subject. And they are both keen on homework clubs. Charles runs a lot of them through the Prince's Trust. Tony relies on them to make good his promise to raise standards.

They have talked since, although not since the election, and - like almost anybody else who has talked to Mr Blair - Charles thinks the Prime Minister and he have a lot in common. They worry about the social fabric, the underclass, the moral condition of the country and especially its young people.

They spoke when the Prince's "planning group" came up with a five-point plan for reform of the monarchy last summer. Prince Charles, in his own rewrite of the monarchy's Clause IV, suggested cutting the size of the official HRH-styled Royal family and sorting out its finances. In the long term (that is, when he becomes king), he wanted to allow daughters to succeed to the throne on the same terms as sons, drop the monarch's exclusive Church of England franchise and end the ban on marrying Roman Catholics. Mr Blair responded favourably to all of these ideas (in the last case this is hardly surprising - Cherie is a Catholic), leaving the Prince in the same glow of common-sense consensualism that lit up members of the public after the Prime Minister's question-and-answer session with them in Worcester last Friday.

No wonder, then, that Prince Charles all but endorsed the new government in his interview last night. It is not simply that, like Bill Clinton and Lionel Jospin, he could do with a bit of that Blair popularity (how the loser in the PR battle with Diana must look enviously upon an 82 per cent approval rating!). But there is much genuine common ground.

That is not surprising, if you think about it. Both Prince Charles and New Labour have been searching for policies on the "non-political" centre ground for some time. In 1993, Prince Charles warned of the "lethal cocktail" of unemployment, crime and drugs in inner cities, and was backed by Tony Blair, then shadow Home Secretary. Prince Charles used the word "stakeholder" in his speeches long before Mr Blair seized on it. And, as well as homework clubs, the Prince's Trust has been running a prototype of the Citizen's Service that David Blunkett plans for the nation's youth.

The Prince and the Prime Minister share similar views on religion too, although there is a difference between Charles's confused pantheism and Mr Blair's muscular but ecumenical Christianity. They both lament the lack of a spiritual dimension in public life these days. (While the C of E has welcomed Blair, the Prince has just been upbraided for not going to church every Sunday.)

So, New Labour, New Monarchy? Not quite. There are a number of subjects that Mr Blair is probably too tactful to go into in his Royal chats. Apart from hunting and guns, there is the question of where Prince Charles's sons go to school. Mr Blair can at least speak on education with the authority of someone whose children go to state schools, even if the Oratory is not quite a local comprehensive. (Nor is Mr Blair likely to say, as Charles did, that he is "delighted to see that the whole question of standards in education are [sic] being looked at".)

And it would be interesting to know what Prince Charles makes of Mr Blair's presidential style. Someone in Buckingham Palace certainly noticed when President and Mrs Clinton passed through London with time for a leisurely dinner with the First Family but no room in the schedule for the titular Head of State. More to the point, what does he think about Labour's plans for constitutional reform: does abolishing the hereditary principle in the House of Lords not have implications for the monarchy? What about Scottish and Welsh devolution?

Mind you, the Queen (who, like Mr Blair, does go to church every Sunday) is only 71, and so for most if not all of the new Prime Minister's reign, Prince Charles will probably have to be found other constructive things to do - given that he won't just go away and play cards for the next 20 years. Luckily, the new government has just the job for him. The Prime Minister is still looking, we hear, for someone to head his Downing Street policy unit.