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Wednesday, October 17, 2012 

An absurd decision for an absurd institution.

In the year of Brenda's diamond jubilee, you expect there to be a certain amount of royal bum-licking, just as you expect those Tory MPs still over-awed by the sheer majesty of generations of inbreeding to jump on anyone daring to suggest the monarchy isn't the most magnificent institution on the planet.  When the brown nosing reaches the heights it did in David Cameron's Conservative party conference speech though, where he described Lillibet as the "finest head of state on earth", it's difficult not to be staggered by the level of cynicism involved in such a statement.  

Never mind the implication that, regardless of the flaws of democracy and the individuals who put themselves forward for such a position, the hereditary passing on of patronage is still a superior system in the 21st century, it's the absurdity of saying such a thing at all.  Why celebrate the Queen's actual position when you can celebrate the person?  And moreover, why say it when it's the equivalent of saying The Sun is the best tabloid newspaper in the world, or indeed that Katie Price is the best topless model turned one person brand in the world?

This is the kind of mindset you have to enter in to to even begin to comprehend the decision by Dominic Grieve, the attorney general, to veto the release of 27 letters written by Prince Charles to various government departments over a seven-month period during 2004 and 2005, as ordered by a freedom of information tribunal.  The Guardian has been trying for 7 years to get the letters released under the FoI legislation, and is now considering appealing against the decision by successive governments not to do so at the High Court.

To judge by what we know of Chaz's personal interests, you'd imagine that the letters in question must be terminally boring.  Tessa Jowell spoke today of his interest in the "perceived lack of traditional skills such as stone masonry and hedge laying", which you can file alongside his fascination with chocolate box architecture, homeopathy, fox hunting and the dangers of nanotechnology.  Not a bit of it, if we're to believe Grieve. 

According to his statement, were these 27 letters to be released, there's the very real danger that Charles would be seen to be disagreeing with government policy, endangering his party political neutrality.  Moreover, the letters while containing nothing improper, do reflect his "most deeply held personal views and beliefs" and "are in many cases particularly frank".  At the same time however, Grieve argues that Charles is doing nothing more than engaging in what would fall under the "tripartite convention" once he becomes monarch, whereby he is perfectly allowed to make his own personal views known to ministers.  Hence his lobbying of them is simply part of his "preparing for kingship".

As arguments go, this has to be one of the most spectacularly fatuous to have been given by an otherwise decent minister for some time.  If we take Grieve at his word, his statement implies that the next in line to the throne (or indeed, any of the others who come after Charles in the line of succession, as you never know when we might have a Nepalese style massacre on our hands) is preparing for their ascent to the throne from the moment they are born until they either become monarch or die waiting.  Anything they write to a minister, regardless of how inappropriate or party political, is therefore part of their preparation for their future role.  Despite it being us serfs who pay for the royals to continue to live in the style to which they have become accustomed, we're not allowed to know how they lobby in private and how this might influence government policy because, err, it might encourage us to believe they're not politically neutral after all.  We're meant to just take at face value the insistence of ministers that they are.  Indeed, if we were to know, then it would damage the very concept of "preparing for kingship".

And so ministers of the capability of Grieve have to humiliate themselves to ensure that the rantings of a Prince are protected and the monarchy as a whole is not embarrassed.  There's a very simple choice here for Charles: either emulate your mother and let your views be known truly in private, or renounce your title and join the rest of us proles at the back of the queue in getting our letters read and answered.  Alternatively, we could just decide that Elizabeth the II will also be Elizabeth the Last, solving the whole wretched problem. Clearly though, when the Saxe-Coburgs make for the "finest head[s] of state on earth", homeopaths or not, the end of this rotten anomaly seems as far away as ever.

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