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4 January 2010

In defence of Prince Charles

The heir to the throne is often more right than wrong

By Mehdi Hasan

I have been a republican for as long as I can remember. Teachers at my school would often berate me for refusing to sing the national anthem. (Disclaimer: I love my country — but God save the Queen? Why should He? Has He not got better things to do with His divine time?)

In 2002, I chaired the Muslim News Awards for Excellence, at which I caused an internal ruckus by refusing to refer to the guest of honour — Prince Charles — as “His Highness”. Higher than who?

I consider the monarchy to be a fundamentally elitist, unrepresentative, undemocratic and anachronistic institution. Removing the monarchy, as a New Statesman leader pointed out in July, “would have huge symbolic value, confirming the people of Britain as citizens, not subjects. It would signal an end to the culture of deference which still pervades public life . . . “

But — there’s always a “but” — I do think Prince Charles gets unfairly singled out for criticism, condemnation, ridicule and abuse, by press and politicians alike. I can’t help but confess to having a slight soft spot for Big Ears.

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Let me be clear. I disagree with the heir to the throne on various issues, from architecture to adultery to hunting to taxation.

But on other matters of political substance, especially international affairs, I can’t help but acknowledge that the Prince of Wales has a pretty good track record, and gets more things right than wrong.

Consider the evidence. He has lobbied hard for action on climate change and rightly signalled the links between global warming and global poverty. As a champion of organic food and farming long before they became fashionable, he has condemned multinational corporations for obsessing over potentially harmful GM crops and risking the livelihoods of millions of small farmers across the developing world.

He has “strong pro-Palestinian views” and has refused to allow himself to be used to “burnish Israel’s international image”. His Prince’s Trust charity has helped half a million people from “disadvantaged” backgrounds by providing them with educational or employment opportunities. (Incidentally, the charity has an important report out today warning of the human costs of long-term youth unemployment — from suicide to depression to drugs to alcohol. Are you listening, George Osborne?)

And now here he is again, revealed over the weekend as a voice of reason, sanity and sound judgement on Iraq and the Middle East back in 2003:

PRINCE Charles was so convinced Tony Blair was WRONG to take Britain to war in Iraq he broke Royal tradition and actively campaigned against the invasion, the News of the World can reveal.

Behind closed doors, the heir to the throne voiced his fears to senior politicians and mounted a staunch anti-war crusade in which he:

ATTACKED the then prime minister’s stance, mockingly calling him “our glorious leader”.
BLAMED American president George W Bush for action he believed to be misguided after reviewing secret intelligence.
WARNED the war would only stir up more serious trouble in the region.
ACCUSED western leaders of failing to deal with what he feels is the real cause of Islamic unrest — the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Spot on, Charlie, spot on! It’s difficult to disagree with a royal source, quoted in the NotW, who says the prince has been “proved right”. On every single one of those issues, in fact.

So will we now see the Prince of Wales testifying at the Chilcot inquiry alongside Tony Blair and Jack Straw? I’m sure the establishment worthies who sit on the Iraq inquiry panel would be delighted to welcome the next king to take part in their pointless proceedings.

Don’t get me wrong. The fact that I find myself strangely in agreement with Charles on a range of political debates, from climate change to the Middle East, doesn’t mean he hasn’t violated an unwritten rule of the British constitution by trying to influence government policy. It is outrageous that an unelected prince has written letters directly to ministers in eight Whitehall departments over the past three years, trying to bring government policies directly in line with his own beliefs.

But, then again, what’s worse? Prince Charles writing letters to government departments about climate change and about Iraq, or Rupert Murdoch turning up at Downing Street to try to get concessions for his business and media empire?