Prince Charles's welfare monarchy

Could the anti-Enlightenment views of King Charles III destroy the House of Windsor?
June 19, 2004
Photo: Allan Warren
The official duties of the heir to the throne are not onerous. They do, however, involve attending state banquets in honour of visiting dignitaries. In October 1999, the Prince of Wales decided otherwise. While every leading member of the royal family from Her Majesty the Queen to the lowly Sir Angus Ogilvy sat down for dinner at the Chinese embassy, Prince Charles hosted a soir?e at St James's Palace for some close friends. In the symbolic waltz of courtly etiquette, this represented an extraordinary act of defiance. The date for President Jiang Zemin's tour had been known for a year in advance and, when in the country, the prince had never previously failed to attend receptions for visiting heads of state. But this time, instead of doing his duty, the prince chose to show his support for the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibet, by snubbing the Chinese - a power of vital significance to British interests in the 21st century, as well as one with a keen nose for slights. To make sure no one missed the point, "friends" told the Daily Telegraph of the prince's distaste for China's treatment of Tibet and that he "wanted nothing more to do with this visit." Tony Blair, according to Downing Street sources, was "livid" about the rebuff; Rupert Murdoch, whose satellite interests are dependent on the Chinese government's goodwill, "went absolutely spare." Civil rights groups and the general public, on the other hand, were broadly supportive of the prince displaying disapproval of China in one of the few ways available to him. (Last month he chose to revive the controversy by inviting the Dalai Lama to lecture at the Temenos Academy, his spiritual think tank.) It is now ten years since the heir to the throne gave his infamous interview with Jonathan Dimbleby. Buckingham Palace saw the 1994 biography and accompanying television series on the 25th anniversary of Charles's investiture as a chance to redefine his public role as Prince of Wales - but in the end, the public was only interested in his admission of adultery with Camilla Parker-Bowles. Since then, wave upon wave of scandal and tragedy have hit this naturally introspective, frequently morose royal: the "Camillagate" tapes, the death of Princess Diana, the death of the Queen Mother (whom he adored), the Paul Burrell trial, and the recent storm over backstairs palace peccadilloes. Yet amid the tabloid frenzy and endless personal angst, the prince has been getting on with his self-drafted job: a position which he has stealthily advanced into radically novel constitutional terrain. In his characteristically solipsistic memoir, A King's Story, the Duke of Windsor wrote of "the rather curious nature of my position" as heir to the throne. "The Prince of Wales is the King's deputy, the 'King in Waiting'... But he has no specific job in the sense that a vice-president has a job." First conferred in 1301 by Edward I on his son, Edward (II), the position of Prince of Wales has no formal constitutional function. So even though the current Prince of Wales has access to cabinet papers, diplomatic telegrams, and (some) military reports, he does not receive dispatch boxes nor is he present at audiences between the Queen and ministers. Yet, as the Duke of Windsor petulantly noted, "in a manner never defined, I was expected to remain conversant with all that was going on in the world." It is said that one of the most unvarying features of monarchy over the last 300 years has been the miserable lot of successive Princes of Wales. Professional fulfilment is dependent upon the death of a parent. Meanwhile, there is the question of how to fill the time, and from the young Henry V to George IV, the Prince of Wales has historically provided the great exemplum of dissolute living. Writing during the raucous days of Bertie (future Edward VII), the constitutional seer Walter Bagehot was downcast at this lacuna in our otherwise irreproachable system of monarchy: "All the world and all the glory of it, whatever is most attractive, whatever is most seductive, has always been offered to the Prince of Wales of the day, and always will be." Bagehot thought any sovereign who took the throne in old or middle age was usually unfit for the job. "The only fit material for a constitutional king is a prince who begins early to reign - who in his youth is superior to pleasure." With no official remit, the Prince of Wales can deploy his amorphous authority as he wishes. After decades of debauchery, Bertie readied himself for the throne by serving on two House of Lords committees and two royal commissions. Finding time between his serial cuckolding, the future Edward VIII became the self-styled spokesman for the "war generation" of first world war veterans, in addition to bringing the monarchy to new audiences with his photogenic tours of depressed industrial districts. All this pales in comparison to Prince Charles's industriousness. As every other crown prince in Europe has been retreating from politics and public policy, the prince has been extending the remit of his office. To his critics, interventions over architecture, science, education, and agriculture are a grotesque abuse of position and imperil the delicate foundations of our constitutional monarchy. But to Clarence House (where the prince is now based), what the prince is involved in represents a deft manoeuvring of the monarchical boundaries and with it an urgent modernisation of the role and function of royalty. One of the most remarkable aspects of British history is the sheer, bloody endurance of the current royal family. As the monarchy's power drained away during the 19th century, its image became subject to ever more grandiose celebrations. Bagehot had famously heralded the magic of monarchy and with a mass culture increasingly susceptible to the seductions of a regal circus, power was exchanged for ceremonial popularity. The pre-first world war monarchy was celebrated in a stream of jubilees, durbars, funerals and coronations all serving to bolster the sovereign as the unchanging icon of national identity. And with British power increasingly widely challenged, the comfort of ceremony proved ever greater. Henceforth the monarchy came to symbolise certainty and custom in an age of flux. In the interwar years, George V and George VI successfully channelled this sentiment into a more domestic setting, presenting the royal family (renowned for infidelity, fratricide, and dysfunction) as the nation's wholesome first family. Right up to Queen Elizabeth II's silver jubilee, public support for the royal family was underpinned by a widespread acceptance of hierarchy and tradition. It was sufficient justification for monarchy for it simply to be seen. But the viability of that approach came to a juddering halt in the 1980s. Tradition and custom were decreasingly regarded as a source of legitimacy and a string of lurid royal scandals damaged public respect. The result, suggested the late Ben Pimlott, the Queen's biographer, was traumatic, "producing a crisis of public confidence that has been deeper and more long lasting than any time since the Regency period." The question posed by the Way Ahead group of senior royals and officials gathering in Buckingham Palace in the early 1990s was how to rebuild the monarchy after the paparazzi's flashbulbs had dispelled any remaining magic. As well as some short-term media palliatives - the revived payment of income tax, the reform of the civil list, the decommissioning of the royal yacht - the strategic answer seemed to lie in the acceptance of its modern function as a democratic, practical, or what the academic Frank Prochaschka has termed "welfare" monarchy. The emphasis was to be less on the magical constitutional role and more on its practical purpose within civil society. The royal family's philanthropy, its role in sustaining the fabric of Britain's civic associations, first popularly developed by George V and Queen Mary, was what had to secure the Windsor dynasty. Today, palace aides talk openly in terms of a "service monarchy": a monarchy for a "value-added age" where achievement and effort confer legitimacy. In addition to what they call its "non-executive role" within the constitution (of which more later), officials regard our royal family as undertaking three main roles. The first is the late 19th-century function of promoting national unity, pride and cohesion by virtue of the institution's "continuous history" and ability to rise above party politics. Secondly, the publicity which surrounds the monarchy allows it to highlight excellence in private and public sectors as well as express condolence on behalf of the nation. Finally, in a rights-based, acquisitive age, the nature of the monarchy's inherited privilege ironically allows it to emphasise the importance of public service and the voluntary sector. No senior royal has done more than Prince Charles to configure this shift towards a "welfare monarchy." He has since youth shown his seriousness towards monarchical duty by becoming, in the words of a senior aide, "one of the world's great charitable entrepreneurs," with over 350 charities to his name turning over hundreds of millions of pounds. From the Prince's Trust to Business in the Community to the Phoenix Trust to the Prince of Wales's Foundation for Integrated Health, there is an impressive reach to his charitable domain. Inevitably, some have been more successful than others but, thanks to him, businesses have been established, districts regenerated, school clubs started, and environments protected. This is practical monarchy in action. But it is not value-free monarchy. Prince Charles's shadow civil service, his charitable infrastructure, is the product of a complex and uncomfortable litany of ideas. These ideas, and the advisers he relies upon, increasingly threaten to bring him into conflict with government. The royal family is a proudly philistine collective. Whereas previous British monarchs have often been closely involved in cultural and artistic patronage, 20th-century Windsors generally contented themselves with hunting, stamp collecting and racing. The Queen Mother once told AN Wilson of the time George VI brought in TS Eliot for some wartime cultural improvement. There appeared, she recalled, "this rather lugubrious man in a suit" who began "to read a poem... I think it was called The Desert. At first the girls got the giggles and then I did and even the King... Such a gloomy man, looked as though he worked in a bank." But Prince Charles, landscape artist and friend of Ted Hughes, is more intellectually inquisitive and aesthetically attuned than either his parents or siblings. Arguably, Charles is guilty of thinking too much; or at least, thinking too much about thinking. Over the years, his public pronouncements have shown a susceptibility to intellectual flattery as well as a lack of rigour and a weakness for pursuing the latest cause drawn to his attention. But he himself believes there is a golden thread uniting his personal philosophy. In a speech given in 2002, he said, "I have come to realise that my entire life so far has been motivated by a desire to heal - to heal the dismembered landscape and the poisoned soil; the cruelly shattered townscape, where harmony has been replaced by cacophony; to heal the divisions between intuitive and rational thought, between mind, body, and soul, so that the temple of our humanity can once again be lit by a sacred flame." Leaving aside the Edwardian Prayer Book prose, is there, as he and his supporters suppose, a credible, even radical philosophy anchoring the prince's public life? There are certainly recurring themes. Perhaps the most persistent is a sense of the sacred, organic nature of the world and with it the necessity for a more holistic approach to public policy. As he put it in his Reith lectures in 2000, "I believe that if we are to achieve genuinely sustainable development, we will first have to rediscover, or reacknowledge, a sense of the sacred in our dealings with the natural world, and with each other. If literally nothing is held sacred any more... what is there to prevent us treating our entire world as some 'great laboratory of life,' with potentially disastrous long-term consequences." According to the theologian Ian Bradley, the monarchy - as a result of Charles's efforts - is adopting a new rhetoric of "healing, wholeness, openness, tolerance and vulnerability" to sit alongside if not replace the old ideas of sacrifice and loyalty. Armed with these more contemporary values, Prince Charles, according to Bradley, is leading the "resacralisation of our secularised society." The prince's thinking is probably best understood as an amalgam of the "small is beautiful" eco-philosophy of Fritz Schumacher, the "Gaia" teachings of James Lovelock (which posited the animate and inanimate Earth as one connected, living organism), as well as the dangerously seductive conservatism of his late mentor, the ethnographer and "storyteller," Laurens van der Post. His more philosophically ambitious advisers like to suggest that the prince is involved in reviving classical Platonism. But at its core, Prince Charles's credo entails a vigorous, reactionary anti-Enlightenment sensibility. What he is drawn to are the metaphors of the great chain of being, the language of order, harmony, and balance which governed the pre-modern world. He admires natural rhythms, intuition, and the ancestral wisdom of tribal societies such as the Dalai Lama's Tibet. What he abhors is the arrogance of reason, the rationality of science and with it a mechanised, material world of secular, autonomous individuals. As Van der Post put it, "We suffer from a hubris of the mind... We have abolished superstition of the heart only to install a superstition of the intellect in its place." Much of this assault on contemporary rationalism flows from the prince's rather eclectic spiritualism. Despite being a regular Anglican communicant and prospective supreme governor of the Church of England, there is little in Prince Charles's public pronouncements which points to a strong commitment to Pauline Christianity. Instead, he has retreated into what is grandly termed "perennial philosophy" - a curious medley of Buddhism, mysticism and inner soul-searching which seems little different from some of the theosophical teachings of the 1890s. It is this broader, incarnational notion of spiritualism which led Prince Charles to speak of his ambitions to be a "defender of faith" rather than the traditional title of "defender of the faith." In many of Charles's musings, one can recognise that concern of early Victorians about the effects of the mechanised, atomistic society unleashed by the industrial revolution. They too worried about the cost of progress and its effects on the traditional ties underpinning the social fabric. Thomas Carlyle saw industrialising England entering a "mechanical age" where it was "no longer the moral, religious, spiritual condition of the people that is our concern, but their physical, practical, economical condition." Carlyle's solution to a disintegrating, secularising society was a revived feudalism. Although some of the pre-industrial imagery which envelops Highgrove might hint at similar ambitions, Prince Charles has yet to advocate this remedy publicly. But there is a suspicion that his admiration for harmony and hierarchy slips seamlessly from the natural to the social order. And at the apex of the traditional societies which both he and Van der Post so admire stands the monarchy. As JDF Jones's superb biography revealed, Van der Post argued in many letters to the prince that a renewed respect for the natural world and its peoples demanded leadership from traditional rulers. "The battle for our renewal can be most naturally led by what is still one of the few great living symbols accessible to us - the symbol of the crown." When defending his right to speak out, Prince Charles frequently resorts to this idea of the prince as holder of ancient wisdom and natural vessel of his people's unspoken concerns. Again, this is a return to a pre-modern idea of monarchy and while Charles has been at the forefront of updating aspects of the royal family, he believes strongly (with the late Queen Mother) in regal splendour and is often a stickler for traditional protocol. According to Michael Mann, former Windsor chaplain, "He shares his grandmother's belief that we in Britain must have no banana court, and that there must be no lowering of the standards in which majesty is displayed." Accompanying this faith in princely power has been an animus against professional bodies and organised knowledge. Van der Post once warned that his great crusade, "this journey of individuation and rediscovery of the self," necessitated the defeat of "those great priesthoods of science, particularly applied science, technology and economic realism." The prince has never been slow to act on this advice, with architects, doctors, urban planners, politicians, teachers, civil servants and scientists all experiencing his royal wrath. At times it almost seems as if the Prince of Wales has a chip on his royal shoulder. There is an almost Pooterish distaste towards their professional superiority and overweening reason - as opposed, one imagines, to the intuitive wisdom of the bushmen of the Kalahari. Painfully, in his 1989 book A Vision of Britain, he even quoted GK Chesterton - "We are the people of England, that never have spoken yet" - to ally himself boorishly with his people against the arrogant architectural elite. But there seems little appreciation by Prince Charles of the conservatism which underpins his faith in the sanctity of tradition. Repeatedly in his speeches there appears the supplication not to "venture into realms that belong to God and God alone" - the age old battlecry of those defending the indefensible, from creationism to slavery. Complementing it is a hostility to intellectual ambition, to the Enlightenment call of broadening man's knowledge and the power of reasoning. He shows no sense of how tradition can also function as one of the great veils of injustice. Social mobility and bettering one's family has no big place in the prince's schema. These intuitive principles and personal antagonisms came together in his criticisms of modern architecture. Here stood the enemy at its most unapologetic: modernism, professional arrogance, and the hubris of reason. "A large number of us have developed a feeling that architects tend to design buildings for the approval of fellow architects and critics, not for the tenants," he famously told a dinner to mark the 150th anniversary of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1984. Instead of the vanity of modernity, the prince yearned for the pre-industrial skyline of Canaletto or Christopher Wren, where "the affinity between buildings and the earth, in spite of the city's immense size, was so close and organic that the houses looked almost as though they had grown out of the earth and had not been imposed upon it..." Famously, he went on to call Peter Ahrends's design for the National Gallery extension, "a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much loved and elegant friend." And in the process, he turned himself into an extra, princely tier of the democratic planning process for nationally significant buildings. Late last year he was at it again, condemning Norman Foster's ultra-modernist Swiss Re building in the City of London and plans for Renzo Piano's controversial, 1,000-foot high "shard of glass" at London Bridge. "We already have a giant gherkin. Now it looks as if we are going to have a giant salt cellar as well." Yet he has not just shouted from the sidelines. To shift the architectural profession back to what he calls "human values," the prince has invested heavily in summer schools, institutes and foundations to encourage students to "seek inspiration from the intuitive ability of our forebears to build in harmony with their surroundings." His Poundbury development in Dorset, an attempt to put philosophy into practice, has been more successful. Part Potemkin village, part planning template, for all its tweedy pastiche the village has proved a rewarding laboratory for what the prince calls "traditional urbanism." Businesses and residents have warmed to the site and, compared to most late 20th-century public sector developments, it constitutes a welcoming civic environment. So much so that the Prince's Foundation for the Built Environment is now advising Whitehall on planning and civic design as ministers seek to expand home-building without repeating the mistakes of the postwar new towns. John Prescott has hired David Lunts, the former chief executive of the foundation, to advise on urban policy. But within the prince's thinking there lingers an obstinate refusal to accept that modern architecture can be both inspiring and a force for urban renewal. Meanwhile, his interference in the redevelopment of Paternoster Square has produced a mongrel melange of adulterated neoclassical design. His thinking on architecture appears to have advanced little from the comfy, frequently fogeyish dogmas of 20 years earlier. A similar inability to engage with the achievements of modern culture infect the prince's views on education and heritage. To the laird of Highgrove, the rot set in with the 1960s - an age which represented not a rewarding confrontation with the ancien r?gime, but a "frenzied attack on long-established principles and values which affected not only architecture, but also music, art and education." There is no acknowledgement that new approaches to history and culture pioneered in the 1960s might have given a voice to those traditionally under-represented in the dominant narratives of our society. Instead, there is simply a fear that the wisdom of ancients was being trampled by the arrogant theorising of the modern. Certainly, to a historian such as myself, his empathy for the past and the attempt to counter the "permanent present" of modern life is attractive. So, too, is Prince Charles's engagement with current events. Indeed, his finest achievement in public life was to highlight the rape of traditional Romanian culture by the "year zero" totalitarianism of Nicolai Ceausescu and the destruction of the ancient Marsh Arab civilisation by Saddam Hussein after the first Gulf war. But within his own realm, it seems to the prince that trendy theorising and "the canker of moral relativism" pose an almost equally serious threat to our cultural heritage. Steeped in a history which stresses sacred continuities, Charles has worked hard to reintroduce his conception of our island story into the mainstream by establishing summer schools for the teaching of English literature and history. In a utilitarian epoch of perpetual examination his plea for a more patient process of understanding offers a useful corrective, even if his choice of scholars are of a conservative bent (David Starkey, Niall Ferguson) and even if the prince's understanding of the past displays an otiose reverence for the fabrications of custom - witness his own efforts at inventing tradition, his investiture as Prince of Wales at Caenarfon Castle. While his interventions in architecture and education have secured the prince publicity and controversy, it is his views on science, the constitution and the countryside which have brought him into direct conflict with New Labour - as he battles to extend the scope of the monarchy from the voluntary sector to the governmental. Palace officials openly regard the monarchy as the "non-executive" branch of the constitutional corporation. While chief executives and boards of directors (prime ministers and cabinets) come and go, the probity and permanence of the ship of state is secured by "the firm" - as the royal family likes to refer to itself. Despite the reassuring metaphor of touches on the tiller, this is a worrying analogy for believers in representative democracy. In many companies, non-executive directors frequently exercise at least as much power as the elected board. Bagehot decreed that "the sovereign has, under a constitutional monarchy such as ours, three rights - the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, the right to warn." The heir to the throne has, as the Duke of Windsor noted, no such rights. But we are told by Jonathan Dimbleby that Prince Charles believes that as a privy counsellor, a member of the pre-reformed House of Lords, and heir to the throne "he had a right to warn, protest and advise." And it is on this constitutionally precarious foundation that the prince has so frequently sought to influence government thinking in an unprecedented fashion. Unlike many of his more partisan forebears, it would be wrong to characterise Prince Charles as party political. As his advisers are keen to point out, of the big political questions of the later 20th century - public spending, power of trade unions, European integration - Charles has been properly absent. And as his intellectual framework suggests, the prince's thinking is difficult to fit into party terminology. If we did, I think we would see the prince not as some counter-cultural environmentalist but, in the words of one No 10 adviser, a "greenish Tory." However, his conservatism has little to do with the modern Tory party, with which his connections, leaving aside old friend Nicholas Soames, are noticeably scarce. Rather, it is one-nation, small "c" conservatism as it used to be: a concern with the country's traditions, a sense of noblesse oblige, and a belief in treating the men properly. His political sentiments find their readiest incarnation not just in the organic "new harmony" of Highgrove, but in the paratroopers and other regiments which swear to serve the crown. Here he can wallow in that seductive mix of duty, tradition, hierarchy, and ceremony which is otherwise so disappointingly absent from 21st-century society. Given his own understanding of his constitutional rights, together with the strength of his convictions ("I happen to be one of those people who feel very strongly and deeply about things"), it is hardly surprising that Charles has time and again unnerved government ministers ("I don't see why politicians and others should think they have the monopoly of wisdom"). Typically his interventions take the form of so-called "black spider" memos direct to the relevant secretary of state. These handwritten notes are invariably dealt with, to the immediate exclusion of most other official business, by the minister's principal private secretary after liaison with palace officials. Not every missive is welcome. In the mid-1980s, the prince infuriated Margaret Thatcher with his views on the inner cities; in the early 1990s he wrote archly to the deputy prime minister, Michael Heseltine, "I heard the other day that I was becoming a menace to the Tory party because I was subjecting ministers to a letter-writing campaign on a whole range of subjects." In fact, during some fairly sticky years in his private life, the prince worked well with the Major administrations, forging strong relations with individual cabinet members such as John Gummer, the environment secretary. The prince was initially enervated by the prospect of New Labour. Struggling against the Tory prejudice inherent in much of his family and country house circle, he strove to understand the incoming Labour elite. Through the offices of the Labour peer Catherine Ashton he was introduced to backbench MPs and future ministers. With the assistance of Peter Mandelson, he came to know the nature of Tony Blair and his agenda. There was even a sense of personal vindication. Thatcher had never really understood the nature of inner-city decay, youth unemployment or Charles's schemes to promote self-esteem through community work. But in Gordon Brown's New Deal, in the focus on urban regeneration and community entrepreneurs, Charles saw the vision and values of the Prince's Trust enter mainstream policymaking. Initially, relations between St James's Palace and No 10 were warm. Helped by intermediaries such as Tom Shebbeare, chief executive of the Prince's Trust, Trevor Phillips the journalist and ethnic minority leader, Blair's gatekeeper Anji Hunter, and Mandelson himself, the prince and prime minister rubbed along contentedly enough. When Princess Diana was killed in Paris and the royal family so spectacularly misjudged the public mood, it was Downing Street which stepped in to save the situation. Here was a Labour government going out of its way to defend the monarchy from the mob. A highly precarious Prince of Wales was suitably grateful. But by 1999, the affair had begun to turn. The first breach emerged over the question of genetically modified food. For Prince Charles, this was a red-letter issue which, as with modern architecture, coalesced in a perfect storm his intellectual and personal bugbears of professional elites, Enlightenment reasoning, and "playing God." And if there is one community for which the prince seems to harbour a quite unhealthy contempt, it is scientists. In a secular world, these "priesthoods of science" appear to him to be operating outside moral or ethical boundaries. Prince Charles has never made a speech highlighting the global excellence of British science. According to Robin McKie, science editor of the Observer, at the royal opening of the Oxford University/Sane centre for schizophrenia research last year, the neurologist Colin Blakemore was told he could not attend because the Prince of Wales would not shake the hand of a vivisectionist. The GM issue was merely one of a number of science and technology concerns. To his credit, the prince had pursued a longstanding and principled critique of the industrialisation of postwar British agriculture. He frequently highlighted the ecological damage which intensive farming was doing to the countryside and at Highgrove hoped to show by example the viability of organic production. Long before it hit the headlines, the prince had also signalled his opposition to the emerging plant science of genetic modification. Ignoring centuries of post-Linnaean genetic manipulation and crossbreeding, the Prince talked of "moral and ethical watersheds" and asked what right we had "to experiment, Frankenstein-like, with the very stuff of life." Unfortunately for the prince, Blair and most of his ministers were strongly in favour of the new technology. But the prince was not one to be thwarted by the elected government and, during 1998 and 1999, he deployed all his non-executive authority in an attempt to influence the terms of the debate. In addition to a series of private conversations with senior ministers, there were formal letters to No 10 as well as opinion pieces in the Daily Telegraph. Articles for mass-market newspapers by the heir to the throne might strike many as quite some way from Bagehot's "genius for discernment." They were not popular in Downing Street and officials made representations to St James's Palace suggesting a period of silence. But on these issues, according to palace sources, "he would not take no for an answer." Subsequently the prince repeated his opposition to scientific progress with furiously underlined letters on the dangers of stem cell research and the human genome project. Blair's plans for constitutional change were a further source of disquiet - this time to the prince's notions of tradition and heritage. If, as he believed, the monarchy was the institutional vessel of ancient, unspoken wisdom, then the hereditary peers held a similarly sacred place within the parliamentary system. Already perturbed by the New Labour language of perpetual modernisation, the removal of the hereditaries struck the prince as an unnecessary repudiation of history. Perhaps he also realised the logic of this assault on his fellow non-execs. For a while he could speak of little else. One attendee at a Highgrove dinner party recalled how the evening was overshadowed by Charles ranting about Lords reform with fellow exile the Duke of Westminster. The prince was equally hostile to changes in his Scottish kingdom. The Queen Mother had cemented the place of the Windsors in Scotland during the second half of the 20th century. She had close family and emotional ties to the nation which she passed on to her favoured grandson. But while he was appalled at the contempt shown by the Thatcher governments towards Scotland and the union, the Prince of Wales thought devolution posed an equally sinister threat. His relations with Donald Dewar were far from warm, and despite the Queen's private secretary, Robin Janvrin, securing a satisfactory royal settlement in the devolved Scottish system, the prince has remained lukewarm, a stance only affirmed by the modernist design chosen for the Scottish parliament (see Deyan Sudjic, page 38). Much of this distaste for New Labour's constitutional reforms coincided with a marked shift to the right in his circle of intellectual courtiers. Acting as an adviser to the Prince of Wales is an exhausting honour. When in favour, the phone calls rarely cease. But the burnout rate is high and the heir to the throne has a tendency to dispense with services abruptly. Traditionally, there was a catholic liberality of views with the progressives (Tom Shebbeare, Jonathan Porritt, Jonathan Dimbleby, Peter Mandelson, Julia Cleverdon of Business in the Community) evenly matched by the old school conservatives (Nicholas Soames, former Eton headmaster and current provost Eric Anderson, Bishop of London Richard Chartres, Daily Telegraph editor Charles Moore, and the prince's broader social circle). However, in 1999 some new characters began to appear at the seminars and dinners which dominate the Highgrove calendar. Prince Charles talked in awed tones of the Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips; the former chief inspector of schools Chris Woodhead bolstered prejudices about the decline of traditional teaching; the radical journalist turned neoconservative William Shawcross became the palace's most favoured polemicist (earning himself the official biography of the Queen Mother in the process). There were even reports that the Prince was seeking the advice of the Daily Mail pundit and Tory scion, Edward Heathcoat-Amory. St James's Palace started to resemble an Associated Newspapers editorial conference. Most of these journalists shared a cultural conservatism, fierce opposition to the legacy of the 1960s and, in some cases, a personal disgust for Tony Blair and the New Labour "project." To their collective mind, the reform of the House of Lords, devolution, and the Human Rights Act presented a wholesale assault on the immemorial, unwritten fabric of Britain. The lord chancellor, Derry Irvine, complained of being "bombarded" with letters from Prince Charles on the effects of the Human Rights Act and "its fundamental distortion in social and legal thinking." It was at this point that the Prince of Wales read Peter Hitchens's polemic against New Labour, The Abolition of Britain. Aides had to work hard to prevent a meeting between the heir to the throne and one of the most abusive critics of the prime minister and his family. And then there was fox-hunting. A keen country sportsman, Prince Charles has long enjoyed the exercise of hunting along with its cultural significance as part of man's organic relationship to the natural world. Together with the paratroopers, Shakespeare, and St Paul's Cathedral, the hunt was testimony to an idea of England not altogether shared by the New Labour front bench. The sport is also part of Charles's rural sensibility - he once spoke to Jonathan Dimbleby of his "Tolstoyan" feel for the soil. Moves to ban hunting were a symbol of the government's broader assault on Britain's rural heritage and became, in the words of one insider, "a completely neuralgic issue." The years of engagement with New Labour began to ebb away as his old social circle happily fed his distrust of a parvenu government with no feel for country ways. His motherly friend the Duchess of Devonshire, with whom he and Camilla often stayed at Chatsworth, emerged as a particularly influential critic of the government. With little appreciation of the political realities within which Downing Street operated, the prince let his opposition to the ban and concern over "the lack of understanding from the government about the real issues in the countryside" be widely reported. He gave his staff the day off to attend the Countryside Alliance "liberty and livelihood" march and told a senior politician that if Labour ended hunting "he might as well leave the country and spend the rest of his life skiing." When the foot and mouth epidemic broke in 2001, civil servants grew frustrated at Charles's interference in policy debates over vaccination and the handling of the crisis. Generously, he donated ?500,000 for the relief of farmers but then in the wake of the disaster allowed his support for the rural community to be hijacked by conservative elements in his office. As he toured the country listening to the farmers, Charles heard little else but anti-Blair diatribes and the kind of venom towards a metropolitan government previously voiced by the fuel protesters. Spurred on by Nicholas Soames and his assistant private secretary, Elizabeth Buchanan, the former special adviser to Cecil Parkinson and a farmer's daughter, he penned a letter to the prime minister aligning himself with the views of a Cumbrian farmer who suggested that "if we, as a group, were black or gay, we would not be victimised or picked upon." For some in Downing Street, who for years had gone out of their way to protect the politically maladroit prince, it was a letter too far and its contents duly surfaced in the Mail on Sunday. Since then relations have not improved much. John Prescott has announced a development of 10,000 new homes in east London which will draw on the Poundbury experience. But Charles's contact with Gordon Brown is minimal - which is a foolish omission in light of the chancellor's seemingly inevitable succession and shared scepticism of the EU. Meanwhile, the prince never hit it off with the ostentatiously undeferential Jack Straw. Since the departures of Anji Hunter and Peter Mandelson from Downing Street, along with the mercurial Mark Boland from St James's Palace, communication with No 10 has suffered. What is more curious is the prince's failure to develop common ground with New Labour over the disestablishment of the Church of England. While he is prospective or actual head of the established church, Charles cannot fulfil his wish to marry the divorcee Camilla Parker-Bowles. And while disestablishment might affront the prince's sense of tradition, heritage and Englishness, it accords with his ambition to be a non-denominational defender of faith. Similarly, as Iain McLean argued in Prospect (January 2003), the removal of the monarch from the church and the bishops from the Lords makes sense as a radical addendum to Labour's constitutional reforms. Perhaps most damaging of all for Downing Street relations, Prince Charles is said to have harboured deep reservations over war in Iraq and its effect on Anglo-Islamic relations. Because of their reverence for kingship, religiosity, and sense of tradition, Charles has always held dear a romanticised ideal of Islamic societies. A classic "orientalist," he spoke lovingly at King Hussein of Jordan's memorial service of the monarch's "wonderful combination of the virtues of the Bedouin Arab and, if I may say so, the English gentleman." He also retains a dynastic affection for the House of Saud, as revealed in his diplomatic efforts to free the wrongly imprisoned British workers, and he was quick to visit Iran after last year's earthquake in Bam. While his patronage of Islamic art and architecture is extensive, the prince's engagement with Israel and America is noticeably sparser. Like many of his future subjects, he is unconvinced by their middle east strategy and instinctively hostile to the rampant modernity of the US. From diplomacy to architecture, rural affairs to education, the prince has significantly extended the boundaries of constitutional monarchy. This is a world away from the apprenticeships of Edward VII or VIII or the anonymous dignity, punctured only by the occasional Hello! spread, pursued by the crown princes of Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, or Norway. But if we have a monarchy, then surely such interventions in public debate are valid. "He is heir to the throne, not on it," declared the Times in the wake of one royal outburst. "He is not precluded from noticing large matters affecting the welfare of the nation, even if these matters attract party political controversy." This is the Clarence House view. In an era of "service monarchy" the public is simply not going to accept a sovereign who had spent the previous 40 years saying or doing nothing of great worth. So, even if the prince takes a few brickbats for his views, silent leisure is not a viable alternative. Yet there are a number of objections to this stance - not least the suggestion that the only choice is between one of Trappist silence or the programme of high-profile interventions the prince has pursued. There are other ways of making a contribution. The more fundamental constitutional point is that with each passing speech and press briefing Charles is edging his way into politics. Admittedly, not the old-style politics of trade unions, taxation and privatisation, but the new politics of the environment, science and technology, culture and identity. Politics is shifting into new areas and while the prince, with some justification, might point out that he has been pursuing these topics for decades, the uncomfortable fact is that they are now more politically charged. The strength of the Queen is that, by and large, the public is gratefully unaware of her political views. For the monarch must be above politics; his or her mind a tabula rasa, happy to work with governments on policies of every hue. As Lloyd George reminded the future Edward VIII, "If you are one day to be a constitutional monarch, you must first be a constitutional Prince of Wales." Would the future King Charles III willingly sign legislation banning fox-hunting, extending stem cell research, or a free trade agreement with China? Indeed, his political activities imperil the non-executive function of the monarchy. The sovereign's right to intervene in the parliamentary process is premised upon the crown being an upholder of the constitution, its detachment from day to day politics, and the rarity of its intervention. Could King Charles be trusted with that supremely important task if he himself has in the past been seen as an interested political participant? How then should the prince bide his time? He is not going to give up his views, close down his think tanks or charities. But he might clear out the Daily Mail pundits and follow the example of the dour but worthy Princess Anne. It is his charitable and civic contributions in rural and urban areas alike which have earned him respect, not his views on nanotechnology or trendy teaching. More specifically, his lack of engagement with the US or the commonwealth seems a dangerous lacuna for future British interests. The royal family's process of adjustment, of achieving relevance in the modern age without overturning the constitutional applecart, is not helped by popular ritual still redolent of our long imperial evening. Although little more remains of empire than Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands, the ceremonial majesty still surrounding the monarchy is worthy of an Edwardian durbar. The Windsors need to shed the trappings of the 19th-century heyday - imperial titles, fabulous wealth and a de haut en bas approach to the political class - and return to a more 18th-century model of openness, civic patronage and cultural engagement, albeit without executive responsibilities. Then Buckingham House was just one grand, London residence among many, the monarch regularly appeared in public without fuss, and was regarded as head of society rather than the nation. David Cannadine once called for a "downsizing Disraeli" - someone who combined a personal empathy for the monarch with progressive intentions to help the royal family "de-Victorianise." Tony Blair is, of course, eminently cast for the role given his warm relations with the Queen and personal credo of modernisation. But perhaps still fearful of the old republican slurs, he has singularly failed to engage with the anachronisms of monarchy, and with the rest of his constitutional programme in some confusion, he shows little sign of doing so. The country therefore faces the prospect of a politically adventurous Prince Charles assuming the throne with all the archaic pomp and circumstance (not to mention unreformed royal prerogatives), but lacking the popular support enjoyed by the Queen. If that were to occur with a less indulgent prime minister (Gordon Brown?) in a more hostile climate, the consequences for the house of Windsor could be disastrous.