The Economist - 14 May 2015
Letting daylight in upon magic
Prince Charles is meddlesome - but not as eccentric as is supposed
'The British government spent considerable time and money trying to prevent the publication of a series of letters between Prince Charles and various Labour ministers in 2004 and 2005. It failed in March, when the Supreme Court upheld a ruling that the government’s veto on their publication was unlawful. On May 13th all was finally revealed. Unexpectedly, the prince comes out of it better than the government.
In his letters, dubbed the “black spider” memos, a reference to his poor penmanship, the prince comes across as worthy, verbose and overly fond of herbal medicine and of the exclamation mark. He tells Elliot Morley, the then environment minister, of his hopes that “the illegal fishing of the Patagonian Toothfish will be high on your list of priorities because until that trade is stopped, there is little hope for the poor old albatross, for which I shall continue to campaign...” In writing to then prime minister Tony Blair, he expresses remorse for the length of his missives. He apologises to Charles Clarke, a former education secretary, for his “old-fashioned views (!)” when it comes to schools.
But he also seems polite, well-informed and on the right side of some important arguments. In a note to Mr Blair he worries, correctly, that the armed forces were being asked to do “an extremely challenging job (particularly in Iraq) without the necessary resources”. He pointed out the ineptitude of the Rural Payments Agency—where, it was subsequently revealed, staff had been leaping naked from filing cabinets and having sex in the bathrooms. His support for the preservation of Smithfield Market, a London meat market, was astute. Alas for the prince, sound political advice is not what Britain asks of its royals.
The ministers’ letters are telling of Blairite culture, too. Mr Morley and Mr Blair sign off their letters with mere “regards” or “yours ever”. John Reid, a former member of the Young Communist League and then health secretary, defers to Debrett’s: “I have the honour to remain, Sir, Your Royal Highness’s most humble and obedient servant.”
The British government has said it is considering amending the Freedom of Information Act (under which Prince Charles’s letters were obtained) to make it easier for officials to withhold information from members of the public. The banality of the heir to the throne’s musings makes this look needlessly secretive. That is a rare good argument for preserving the monarchy.'