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10 April 2023

Charles is proving a political king – and we should be grateful

The King is trying to repair the damage that successive Tory governments have done to the UK’s global standing and to the public realm.

By Martin Fletcher

In 2018 the then Prince of Wales was asked whether he would continue publicly to campaign for issues he cared deeply about when he became king. “No,” he replied. “I’m not that stupid. I do realise it’s a separate exercise being sovereign.”

In the seven months since he succeeded his mother, King Charles III has kept his word. The “meddling prince”, who rarely hesitated to voice his opinions on climate change, architecture, wildlife conservation and a host of other issues, has kept his counsel. He pledged to “maintain the precious principles of constitutional government which lie at the heart of our nation”, and he has.

Or has he? There are, after all, more subtle ways of making one’s views known. In the monarch’s case, it can be done by choosing where one visits, for example, or who one receives.

Thus Charles and Camilla, the Queen Consort, made a triumphant state visit to Germany late last month, and would have visited France as well had it not been convulsed by protests over Emmanuel Macron’s pension reforms.

Charles was quite right to go. He was surely encouraged to do so by Rishi Sunak. His mother would have done the same. But the purpose was undoubtedly to mend fences with two of our closest European allies after the breach of Brexit.

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Brexiteers could hardly complain publicly about that, but they were less constrained in February when Charles received Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, at Windsor Castle scarcely two hours after she had signed off on controversial changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

[See also: Is King Charles too left-wing for the Tories?]

The meeting appeared to signal the King’s endorsement of Sunak’s “Windsor Framework”. Jacob Rees-Mogg, who opposed it, was furious. “It antagonises people the Prime Minister needs to conciliate. It is constitutionally unwise to involve the King in a matter of immediate political controversy,” he fumed.

Arlene Foster, the former Democratic Unionist Party leader, likewise complained: “I cannot quite believe that No 10 would ask the King to become involved in the finalising of a deal as controversial as this one. It’s crass.”

Last November Charles gave several hundred of his staff a £600 payment from his own pocket to help them get through the looming cost-of-living crisis. It was a generous gesture, but was it also a way of signalling that the government should do more to help the disadvantaged at a time of acute need?

In a similar vein, he recently visited a food distribution charity in East London. Mark Bolland, Charles’s former press secretary, once wrote of his boss: “He believes passionately that he can make Britain a better country and that he can help the disadvantaged.”

But what really made me wonder whether Charles is pursuing his former agenda by different means was the weekend announcement that he is inviting to his coronation next month more than 850 “local heroes” who have helped their communities in different ways. By contrast, and much to their disgust, very few politicians have been invited.

I’m not a monarchist, but good for Charles. As Boris Johnson seeks to further debase the honours system by using his resignation honours list to reward cronies, donors and relatives, the monarch is proving himself to be the champion of ordinary people that the disgraced former prime minister always claimed to be but never was.

Which is more worthy of recognition: Max Woosey, the 13-year-old who slept in a tent for three years to raise £700,000 for a hospice, or Johnson’s good-for-nothing father, Stanley, whom he has reportedly recommended for a knighthood? Sahil Usman, the 16-year-old leukaemia survivor who persuaded supermarkets to make hampers for the elderly of Blackburn during the Covid lockdowns, or Nadine Dorries, the former culture secretary and Johnson toady who did her best to destroy the BBC and is now set for a peerage? Dawn Wood, the Essex police officer who raised more than £10,000 for the Marine Conservation Society by rowing solo across the Atlantic, or Paul Dacre, editor-in-chief of the hateful, mendacious Daily Mail, whom Johnson also wants to ennoble?

Charles may be quirky and irritable, but unlike most of the Tory governments of the past decade he’s decent and compassionate. By and large, he tries to do the right thing. I hope he uses his weekly meetings with the Prime Minister to keep on nudging Sunak in the right direction, and supporting him as he seeks to repair the immense damage done by Johnson, Liz Truss, Theresa May and David Cameron.

I could suggest a few other places the King might like to visit in the coming days and shine a subtle spotlight on. A filthy beach or river, perhaps. Or one of Suella Braverman’s barges for asylum seekers. Or Brussels even.

[See also: What lies beneath the crown]

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