Friday, November 14, 2008

Prince Charles at 60

The heir to the British throne (pictured above) is 60 today. Here's my piece from The Australian, first published in 2005, on why a King Charles III would be preferable to a more politicised Head of State. Do you agree?

Prince Charles: Victim of Slight Royal Treatment

George Orwell got it only half right. It’s not just some animals that are more equal than others. It’s royalty too- as last week’s events surely demonstrate. Royal 1 visits Australia: goes yacht racing with her husband, attends glitzy balls in designer outfits and is fawned over by even the most hard-core republicans. Royal 2 visits Australia: goes to see victims of the Bali bombings, addresses indigenous issues and is lambasted in Parliament for wasting tax-payers money.

Of course, there are important differences between Crown Princess Mary of Denmark and the heir to the British- and Australian throne. As the Sydney Morning Herald so succintly put it, one is young and beautiful and the other is not. Then there is the small matter of nationality. ‘Australia loves this uber couple because they are young, gorgeous and 50% locally made’ says Emma Toms of Fred and Mazz. Chazz, one the other hand, may have visited Australia ten times and spent two terms at Geelong Grammar, but is - and always will be a Pom.

But even allowing for the above, it still seems to me that Prince Charles has been given an unnecessarily rough ride- not only in Australia- but back in Britain too.
I write not as a die-hard supporter of hereditary monarchy, but as an unreconstructed leftist and staunch believer in meritocracy. But if we are to have a constitutional monarchy- and on consideration of all the other options, it still seems the least worst- then it is difficult to imagine a man more suited to the task than the 56 year old in a double-breasted suit who has been touring this past week.

For a start, unusually in this age of spin and counterfuge, insincerity and mock concern- Charles is a man of profound integrity. ‘Prince Charles cannot but tell the truth. I have never met anyone in public life who is quite like him in that sense’ is the verdict of his biographer, Jonathan Dimbleby. It takes courage to admit to committing adultery in a television documentary and when someone with such a track record for honesty says that he only did so when his marriage had ‘irretrievably broken down’, he must surely be given the benefit of any doubt.

Then there is the intelligent contribution Prince Charles has made to matters of national and international concern. While his critics seek to portray him as an old-fashioned fuddy-duddy, hopelessly out of step with the spirit of the times, Charles’ line on many issues is far more progressive than that held by many so-called leftists. He was the first British royal to question the suitability of the monarch of a multi-racial, multi-faith country ( to say nothing of the Head of the Commonwealth)- to be the ’Defender of the Faith’ and not ‘the Faiths’. He has consistently championed the cause of alternative medicine and of a holistic approach to health. He has made speech after speech warning of the dangers of deforestation and global warming and has spoken out against the disastrous effect large scale capitalism has on both the environment and the social cohesion of communities. And the man who many dismiss as the epitome of privilege, has through his own Princes Trust and countless other charitable projects, helped thousands of disadvantaged people to achieve their goals in life.

On issues where Prince Charles has taken a more ‘traditional’ line, he has arguably not been behind the times, but paradoxically ahead of them. It’s the proponents of modernist and post-modern architecture and of 1960s teaching methods whose theories now appear hopelessly dated: Charles’ attacks on them -regarded as blasphemy when first made in the 1980s -now appear to most sane individuals as the voice of sheer common sense.

Prince Charles’ ingrained scepticism -and his understanding that so many of the great issues of the day are not black and white, but grey- is a huge plus point in an age where once again it is the cocksure and the Manichaeans who are calling the shots. Charles’ scepticism extends not only to modern architecture, trendy teaching theories and what he calls ‘militant humanism’, but also to the war in Iraq, about which he is reported to have had grave misgivings.

Then there are Charles’ other qualities to consider. As all those who met him this past week, will no doubt testify, he is a man of rare charm and wit. From his good-humoured reaction to being offered witchetty grubs and honey ants at Alice Springs to his quip to Vietnam veteran Gary Johnston that there was ‘no bloody room’ at his forthcoming wedding- the Goon Show-loving Royal Prince surely can’t be accused of lacking a sense of humour.

All in all, when you consider that Prince Charles has had to overcome the twin handicaps of a British public school education (to say nothing of two terms at Geelong Grammar) and a father for whom any display of affection is regarded as a crime on a par with murder- then the future King's well-roundedness is even more remarkable.

Should the fact that Charles is clearly a ‘bloody good bloke’ alter our view of the monarchy in general? In theory it shouldn’t- but as we’ve seen from the past week- the identity of the royal in question undoubtedly has an impact on the way the institution is regarded. And I for one would rather have a Head of State who combines integrity, humour and scepticism in equal measure, than a politicised President who would probably be lacking in all three.

UPDATE: You can see me talking about Prince Charles- and whether he is too old to become King, on this Sky News report here:


DBC Reed said...

There's probably some point to a constitutional monarch when asking common sense questions such as the Queen to a leading economist recently about the sums involved in the Credit Crunch "If these things were so large ,how come everyone missed them?"
But there are too many political ambiguities : all the funny business about Rudolph Hess needs to be cleared up by royals who have some inkling went on then.

David Lindsay said...

On a sixtieth birthday documentary earlier in the week, he came across as possibly Britain's pre-eminent paleocon, with his work in support of traditional arts and crafts; his appreciation of the relationship between Truth, Goodness and Beauty; his opposition to zoning, whether by function (residential and commercial) or by class; his understanding that Communism would come back if capitalism were unfettered; and his championing of so many other causes dear to the hearts of those of us who are conservationists and not environmentalists, even down to saving the red squirrel.

But he also came across as pro-EU, which paleocons occasionally are, because they see it as Christendom, which is exactly what it is not.

And then there was the syncretism. And the environmentalism instead of conservationism. And the silly yet nasty cult of the silly yet nasty Dalai Lama.

Will the real Prince Charles please stand up? We certainly need him to. Many of us would be proud to be called, as it were, Carlists: "Dios, Patria, Fueros, Rey", indeed, just so long as the "Patria" in question were the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth.

It is rubbish that a constitutional monarchy must be "purely ceremonial". Liberty and democracy are not the same thing, and the role of the House of Lords as a check on majoritarian tyranny has been ruthlessly subverted by New Labour, although the powers are still there if Their Lordships were minded to use them.

As much as anything else, when the media that so insist have driven from the parliamentary process all but a very narrow (and not very popular or widespread) view, then someone still has to stand up for traditional arts and crafts; for the relationship between Truth, Goodness and Beauty; his opposition to zoning, whether by function (residential and commercial) or by class; for the realisation that Communism would come back if capitalism were unfettered; and for so many other causes dear to the hearts of those of us who are conservationists and not environmentalists, even down to saving the red squirrel.

Someone still has to stand up for "Dios, Patria, Fueros, Rey", just so long as the Patria in question is the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth.

But no one can do that who is away with such things as European federalism, or syncretism, or environmentalism instead of conservationism, or the silly yet nasty cult of the silly yet nasty Dalai Lama.

Anonymous said...

Title: Happy birthday for HRH Prince Charles

14th November 2008 :
Happy birthday for His Royal Highness Prince Charles The Prince of Wales !
Long live for HRH Prince Charles !

EXP.: unemployed (....) Tzucky - Ioan TODIROAE (Timisesti, Romania).

Anonymous said...

" silly yet nasty Dalai Lama " is about right.

As to Charles becoming King... He may or may not be a 'good lad', but he can't keep his mouth shut. Monarchy and aristocracy are intrinsically offensive anachronisms; that chronic old anachronism Liz II has been tolerable because she has been a model of decorum, showing great self-discipline in never stepping a micrometer beyond the boundaries of her role as constitutional monarch. It's even arguable that she has been a binding force for the nation during a time of transition (the end of empire), and that her restrained and dutiful approach has been a useful role model. But enough's enough! The institution of monarchy is a symbol of the idea of genetic superiority, and has to go. But, whether or not it goes after Liz II, there is no way Charlie can have the job; if he can become king it will change the acceptable boundaries for the behaviour of a constitutional monarch. We may like some of the causes and ideals Charles espouses, but if we accept that as appropriate behaviour, then how can we object when we get a monarch who espouses things we detest?
The monarchy are paid - a fortune - to keep quiet and put on a good show - Charles hasn't grasped the job description. For those sentimental about our illustrious line of monarchs, let us end the institution with one of the few monarchs that has been a credit it to it - Elizabeth II.

Anonymous said...

If you end the monarchy who would visiting toffs and nabobs be wined and dined by?
Would some oil rich sheik feel the need to buy british goods if entertained by our wonderful politicians.
Because diplomacy does start at the top.

David Lindsay said...

Jock McTrousers, opposition to the aristocratic social conscience is also opposition to organiseed labour, by the same people and to the same ends.

Those who removed trade union barons then removed hereditary barons, because both were bulwarks against neoliberal economic policy, neoconservative foreign policy, and the attendant assault on liberty.

All that is left is the monarchy. And the next King knows it.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

david lindsay - trade union barons and hereditary barons haven't proved to be much of a bulwark against anything; neither has the monarchy. If we need any of these things, we deserve the neocons. We can do better.

David Lindsay said...

How, exactly?

Martin Meenagh said...

Joe Gormley did a far better job for his men than Scargill did, Jock. And I'd take the House of Lords over some bunch of hacks appointed from a list such as the European Parliament is, or a proportionally elected House of Commons--or, for that matter, most local councils--any day of the week.