It’s been a funny few days for the Royal family. Last week, it was declared that this inherently unequal organisation is to be made subject to an “equality act”. And today, The Guardian reports that Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, has been given a “secret veto” on 12 separate pieces of legislation.
The legal matters involved are a bit baffling, but in essence, it goes like this: any bill in Parliament that affects the sitting monarch’s interests must be given to the Queen for consent. The Duchy of Cornwall, which is given to the sovereign’s eldest son, reverts to the property of the Crown if the heir dies without leaving children. Therefore, the Queen has an interest in anything which affects the Duchy of Cornwall: so any legislation affecting the Duchy’s interest must be passed via the Prince for approval.
If I were a royalist – and I’m not: I’m a don’t-really-careist with a vague republican leaning – I’d be pretty worried about this. Of all of the problems facing the continued rule-by-divine-right of our glorious Greco-German hereditary monarchs, the Prince of Wales is the biggest. His mother has the sympathies of almost everyone: even the most hardcore of anti-royal republicans have a soft spot for her, as her remarkable trip to Ireland earlier this year demonstrated. But Charles, even before this latest news, has been seen as a sort of ticking constitutional time-bomb. Since 1984, when he decided to intervene in London planning permission decisions with his “monstrous carbuncle” speech, he has been unwilling to follow the convention that the Royal family should stay out of politics: he has since complained about a housing development at Chelsea Barracks, an extension to the National Gallery, two developments near St Paul’s Cathedral and the redevelopment of Smithfield Market. Further, he has spoken out against climate sceptics – describing them as “corrosive” – and advocated organic farming and other green issues, while criticising nanotechnology and genetically modified organisms. Wherever you stand on these issues, the man who will soon be the ceremonial head of state should not be getting involved in the political arguments. He is also a major businessman, running the Duchy as what The Guardian calls “a target-oriented investment portfolio” worth £712 million, with a £200,000-a-year chief executive. The Prince earns £17.8 million a year from it, and therefore has serious vested interests in legislation relating to farming.
The Prince does not seem to have actually exercised his right of veto, although The Guardian’s attempts to access papers have largely failed. But the discovery that he can block legislation is alarming given his established willingness to interfere in political matters. It is all too easy to imagine him vetoing a bill loosening the planning laws, or widening the use of GM crops.
That’s not to say he’s wrong on every issue, although I’m happy to say he’s wrong on a few. The point is that he is making the Royal family seem less like a stately and dignified ceremonial presence, and more like a cross between a fogey-hippy crossover activist group and a vast whole-foods retail company. Without the goodwill that the Queen generates, a Charles-headed monarchy will be subject to both mistrust and ridicule. This latest revelation does nothing to help. Unless he wants to be remembered as Britain’s last king, the Prince of Wales might want to start behaving more like Bagehot’s dignified ruler and less like the head of Eco-Greenie Megacorp, and he should start by renouncing the right of veto to any legislation.