The Cabinet Office has finally released letters that the Prince of Wales’ wrote to various figures in Tony Blair’s government (the full set can be seen here). All in all, they are a fairly anodyne read. Not surprisingly, they deal with issues such as agriculture, the environment, complementary medicine, and the preservation of historic buildings, which are all issues of longstanding interest to the Prince.
Whatever the merits of his views, Prince Charles makes constructive arguments, and he does not presume to command the Government. It’s clear that Ministers felt no obligation to accede to his requests. For example, Ruth Kelly (then Education Secretary) politely declined a request to fund professional development and initial teacher training provided by the Prince of Wales Education Summer Schools.
When Ministers did act in accordance with Prince Charles’ wishes, it’s far from clear that his influence was the deciding factor. Although he wrote to Tessa Jowell (then Culture Secretary) to supporting the listing of the General Market and Annexe buildings at Smithfield Market, her reply makes it clear she gave them Grade II status on the advice of English Heritage. Even the Guardian has admitted that “[t]he idea that [Prince Charles] is some latter-day George III or Kaiser Wilhelm, an over-mighty ruler wrestling with ministers for control of the wheel, with epochal consequences for his country, would be wide of the mark, at least on this evidence.”
There is nothing inherently wrong with Prince Charles sharing his views with Ministers. The British constitution gives the Sovereign three main rights vis-a-vis the Government: the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, and the right to warn. Although Prince Charles does not enjoy the same rights under the constitution, convention dictates that he should be able to familiarize himself with affairs of state as part of his preparation for kingship, and this includes corresponding with Ministers. There are limits, of course. Prince Charles cannot publicly oppose the Government, and he must act on Ministers’ advice, even if he disagrees with it. As long as he follows these rules, he is free to write as many letters as he pleases.