Prince Charles has vowed to ‘bombard ministers with his political views’, which is no surprise. But the attempt to force publication of the future monarch’s missives has confirmed that Prince Charles’ views are such that, if they were revealed, the resulting furore would leave the monarchy ‘seriously damaged’. This is the chilling effect argument that fear of future disclosure prevents policy makers engaging in frank and candid debate. The chilling effect is grossly overstated as the Information Commissioner, Information Rights Tribunal and High Court will take the chilling effect into account, although public bodies have struggled to demonstrate its effects.
More importantly, in a democracy the monarch should not be involved in policy formation and so any opinions Prince Charles may hold should be purely academic. But this is naive. The chilling effect we should fear is that caused by an aggressive monarch energetically pursuing a largely secret agenda that apparently includes altering planning laws to benefit his business interests.
In vetoing the release of Prince Charles’ letter, the attorney general is not merely protecting him from the ridicule eccentrics so often attract, but from accusations of corruption.
So determined are some ardent royalists to protect the monarchy from Prince Charles’ opinions they have resorted to playing the terrorist card. According to the Spectator’s Shiraz Maher had the government not vetoed the release of Prince Charles’ rants the CIA would have been spooked, would no longer co-operate with our security services and the chances of our facing another terrorist attack would be greatly enhanced. Naturally, this is nonsense. As one would expect, information requests may be refused on national security grounds (and for all sorts of other reasons), but that doesn’t stop Shiraz Maher coming to the rather silly conclusion:
‘Prince Charles’ correspondence is not believed to contain anything of national security, but the same principle applies. [The attorney general] Grieve believes publishing his letters will significantly impair his ability to act as head of state someday. Republic [the abolitionist campaign group] are free to continue arguing for the abolition of the monarchy but not in a way that holds the entire political process to ransom.’
Shiraz Maher’s piece is, at best, confused and descends into a general argument for secret government. Among the strongest arguments for freedom of information and free speech is that without them those in power cannot be effectively held to account. One of the consequences of that is corruption. It may be that Prince Charles has long been abusing his power to suit his business interests. If that’s so, it’s time we were told.