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11 May 2023

Is King Charles too left-wing for the Tories?

Boris Johnson is not the only conservative irritated by our new monarch.

By William Atkinson

The King has spent half a century promoting his politics. Over five decades he has watched as his passions for traditional architecture and the environment went from being crankish to visionary. Charles’s willingness to be both reactionary and radical has always made him the patron saint of Young Fogeys. Yet it has also attracted the ire of those one expects to be slavishly loyal to the crown: Tory MPs.

The Conservative Party can trace its origins back to those who defended the rights of a previous King Charles, and one is unlikely to find many republicans at CCHQ. The King has nothing to fear for his position while the party of Church and State is in power. Even so, just as ministers find themselves taking flak from the Archbishop of Canterbury, so too do Guto Harri’s revelations about the King and Boris Johnson show the tension between the Tory right and their meddling monarch.

Harri, who was Johnson’s director of communications in Downing Street, claims the prime minister “squared up” to Charles – Prince of Wales at the time – after he privately described the government’s Rwanda deportation plan as “appalling”. The claim should be taken with a pinch of salt. Harri has turned his few short months in Downing Street into a podcast, and he is naturally keen to use some coronation bumpf to reach any sadomachists who want to relive the dying days of the Johnson regime.

Still, it has a ring of truth to it. The would-be World King and the heir of the god Woden have never got along. Despite shared penchants for environmentalists and adultery, their differences over everything from architecture to genetically modified foods have prevented the pair imitating their wives’ friendship. There are also obvious differences in personality between Britain’s best dressed man and a subject too unruly to even straighten his collar for the coronation.

It is hardly a surprise to discover the Rwanda policy isn’t to the King’s liking. Whatever its merits it is nothing if not a little gauche. As head of the Commonwealth and a man noticeably comfortable as a ruler of a multi-ethnic and multi-faith country, the King is obviously attentive to any policy that threatens to further toxify our debates over immigration and race. And it is notable that no denial of his comments has been issued.

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This is not the only time the King has taken flak from a Tory direction recently. By welcoming Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, to tea as she sealed the Windsor Framework – which borrowed its name from the King and castle – His Majesty raised the hackles of Eurosceptics. “It antagonises people the Prime Minister needs to conciliate. It is constitutionally unwise to involve the King in a matter of immediate political controversy,” Jacob Rees-Mogg, that noted republican, said.

This controversy was a storm in a teacup. Then again, it points towards a pattern of monarchical behaviour almost perfectly designed to irritate the Tory right. In his first Christmas broadcast he singled out for praise the “selfless dedication” of “health and social care professionals” and “all those working in public services… at this time of great anxiety and hardship” as many struggle to “pay their bills and keep their families fed and warm”.

This came at a time when the government was bending under the weight of public sector strikes and a cost-of-living crisis. Ministers would hardly have been overjoyed at the subject playing a starring role in the King’s speech. One or two Tory MPs have also not been pleased to have had their spots at the coronation usurped by exactly the sort of community leaders the King was championing. Once again, he was picking a side; once again, Conservative MPs found themselves on the wrong one.

Not too long ago, GB News presenters were labelling Charles a “clown prince” – strangely enough, they’ve stopped. With their growing stable of Tory presenticians, how long is it until a leaked comment or one of the King’s decisions prompts an MP to make their criticism live on air? The days of Charles’s “black spider” memos, published manifestos and parliamentary speeches on Welsh recreational facilities may be over. But can a committed environmentalist really avoid, say, criticising our sewage-filled waterways?

The contrast between the apolitical Elizabeth II and her campaigning son is overdone, and neglects the late Queen’s willingness to offer a political nod and wink. Yet she had nothing like as developed or public an outlook as the King, nor one that ran so obviously counter to the shrill combination of reheated Thatcherism and grumbling about wokery that preoccupies the worst excesses of today’s Tory right.

Before they complain, Tory MPs would do well to remember that the monarch has public backing for speaking out. While no good usually comes of a King Charles sidelining MPs, picking a fight with the monarch would be another vote loser for my fellow Conservatives at a time when they really don’t need it.

[See also: King Charles III’s secret kingdom]

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