Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Down the royal rabbit hole

Presumably you know that the heir to the British throne is prone to writing highly-opinionated letters to government ministers, despite the British having a civil war and various other shenanigans which eventually came to the conclusion that monarchs would be tolerated only so long as they kept their mouths shut on political matters. The deal was: they'd get the palaces, anthems, posh totty, medals, salutes and the illusion that everything would be done in their name, while Parliament got on with deciding what was right for the country and its population. The royals would agree to keep schtum.

Sadly, Prince Charles can't help firing off green-ink missives to ministers and even more sadly, they keep reading them. Unlike the rest of us, he has access and influence, without the other duties of a citizen (i.e. getting a job, paying taxes, suffering the consequences of bad government).

So quite reasonably, I thought, the Guardian asked under FoI legislation for copies of these letters. After all, if an unelected toff is getting privileged access, we should know what he's on about. Some of it might be inconsequential, some foolish (his views on architecture), some excellent (he's quite strong on environmentalism) and some dangerous (like the Secretary of State for Health, shockingly, he believes in homeopathy and various other quack medicines).

The government refused to release the papers, while the Information Tribunal ordered it repeatedly to release them: this has gone on for nine years and has now reached court.

What really shocks me is the government's reasons for not releasing these letters:
"This risk will arise if, through these letters, the Prince of Wales was viewed by others as disagreeing with government policy. Any such perception would be seriously damaging to his role as future monarch because if he forfeits his position of political neutrality as heir to the throne he cannot easily recover it when he is king."
This is what makes you subjects rather than citizens. Does the Prince of Wales disagree with government policy? Yes. Is he politically neutral? No, obviously not. I'd say he's a classic Tory radical actually. But the government is explicitly saying that you can't be allowed to see what he thinks because you'd lose faith in his political neutrality even though they know he isn't politically neutral and they know you know he isn't politically neutral (etc. ad infinitum). Their argument isn't that he isn't politically neutral, it's that you can't see the proof because then – in Bagehot's Victorian terms – the spell will stop working:
“We must not let in daylight upon magic…we must not bring the Queen into the combat of politics, or she will cease to be reverenced by all combatants; she will become one combatant among many.”
You're children. You might know the truth and they might know the truth but if we say it out loud the whole foundations of British society will collapse!

No comments: