This unruly monarchy is part of Britain’s secretive, undemocratic state
This week it has been revealed that Prince Charles has been receiving sensitive, classified government papers; it has also transpired that his son Prince William received government papers “when relevant”. No doubt next we’ll learn that baby George is also on this exclusive list.
After a three-year campaign, Republic, the pressure group for an elected head of state, has fought and won a battle for the publication of the Cabinet Office “Precedent Book”. That the heir to the throne receives confidential papers puts him on a equal footing with the head of state, the prime minister, Cabinet members and above senior ministers, such as the Attorney General, who only receive such papers at the Prime Minister’s direction. These papers include draft legislation on matters from the economy to public services, enabling him to influence potential law before the public or even MPs. Do I need to say that MPs are actually elected?
Unconstrained by such democratic trivialities, Charles has access. He has information. He is also totally unaccountable
It would, whatever your view on the unelected nature of our head of state, be rather strange if the Queen did not received such papers. She has a constitutional responsibility: her role is to advise and to warn. Beyond Bagehotian theory whether she is able to fulfill this function is open to dispute. Charles, on the other hand, has no such role. He is a very political prince. As we saw at the COP21 summit he made a public intervention, pleading with world leaders to reach an agreement. That action on climate change may be A Good Thing is neither here nor there. His unelected status - a constitutional adornment with no apparent function except to have a heart beat - is. The environment is not the only cause of our troubled prince, who has also intervened on behalf of homeopathy in the NHS, the patagonian toothfish and badger culling. That he is a large landowner and has extensive agricultural interests is a complete co-incidence.
The heir to the throne is not a figurehead he is an activist with an agenda. That he is receiving confidential papers, when democratically accountable ministers do not, gives him advantage. Unlike ministers, who abide by a code of conduct and whose financial interests have to be disclosed, the prince is under no such obligation. Unconstrained by such democratic trivialities, Charles has access. He has information. He is also totally unaccountable. However he justifies his interventions, it would take the purity of Augustine for Prince Charles not to mix his private interests with his public role. You might very well think that he is no saint, but I could not possibly comment.
Those who complain that he is no lobbyist might perhaps find a better, more palatable word. But whatever term we use, his views represent nothing but his personal priorities and interests. To claim noblesse oblige is to stretch credibility beyond breaking point.
Monarchists protest that Charles’ access is nothing surprising; that as heir to the throne he has a right to be informed; maybe there is even an obligation for him to be informed. Yet this access goes beyond briefing. It puts him on a level with our elected government. If it is perfectly legitimate and unconcerning, why was this practice not in the public domain in the first place? Worse, this was a revelation that the government actively fought to prevent. If Charles has a right to see these papers then do not we as citizens - pardon, ‘subjects’ - have an equal right to know the rules by which this monarchy operates. Apparently not. I repeat: a three year battle.
one of the greatest lies about the monarchy is that it is a powerless institution
That it has been revealed that an unaccountable prince is given high-level access across Whitehall after the government announced attempts to 'review' FoI is almost comical. This whole affair also exposes the duplicity of Charles’ position. He can either have no constitutional role and therefore be allowed a political voice, or he can have a place at the heart of government. He cannot do both. It is part of a trend, which sees ministers form legal contortions to protect the monarchy from any democratic scrutiny. Public support for monarchy is used to justify its continuance but this latest campaign is another demonstration that people are being denied information with which to make a reasonable judgement.
Whether it be the government’s flimsy arguments against all readings of the law to stop releasing the so-called “black spider memos” or this most recent campaign, governments protect it from the public because one of the greatest lies about the monarchy is that it is a powerless institution. Power needs constant check. Ministers, heads of government agencies, even former prime ministers are accountable before the House of Commons or its select committees for their policies, decisions and experiences. No member of the royal family has ever had to answer to parliament or the people. The idea that they would allow this to take place is, sadly, fanciful.
How any of this can be logically justified I do not know. But then where monarchy is concerned there are no rules. They are part of Britain’s secretive, undemocratic state. Scrub that. They are Britain’s secretive, undemocratic state.
About the author
Educated at Durham University and UCL, Graham is Disclaimer's editor and a regular contributor. He has written for numerous publications including Tribune, Out Magazine and Vice. He has also contributed to two books of political counterfactuals for Biteback Media, Prime Minister Boris (2011) and Prime Minister Corbyn (2016).
A democratic republican lefty, he struggles daily with the conflict between his ingrained senses of idealism and pragmatism.
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