Vox Political on The Government’s Victory to Keep Discussions with Prince Charles Secret

Earlier today Mike put up a piece reporting that the government had won its battle to keep details of discussions between Prince Charles and government ministers out of the press, despite the fact that the Information Commissioner has stated that it is in the public interest for it to be released.

Mike makes the point that it is wrong for the government to wish to keep this information secret on the grounds that its release would compromise Charles’ privacy, while seeking ever greater power to invade that of ordinary citizens. See his article: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/04/19/it-is-wrong-for-the-taxpayer-to-fork-out-for-prince-charless-privacy-when-the-tories-are-trying-to-take-it-from-us/

Mike’s correct, of course, but this is the way government works in Britain. It has a profound fear and suspicion of the people it governs, and is perpetually concerned to protect its secrets while trying to garner as much information as possible on the rest of us. Under Thatcher this mania for secrecy became so extreme, that the various cabinet ministers, who were members of different cabinet groups, could not tell their cabinet colleagues what was being discussed in these different committees, despite the glaringly obvious fact that as cabinet ministers, they should all automatically have been expected to have had the clearance to share the information with their colleagues, who were at the same level of trust.

Bliar’s introduction of the Freedom of Information Act was a step in the right direction, but it was weak even when it was introduced. And since then, the Tories and New Labour apparatchiks like Jack Straw have been determined to make it even weaker. It’s not hard to see why both political groups distrust the Act. It makes government difficult, because it opens it up to public scrutiny. It’s so much easier to ride roughshod over people by not letting them know about important government decisions, and taking the attitude that, as members of the public, they cannot possibly know what is really in the public interest. Or in the case of Thatcherites everywhere, the private good of big business.

And they definitely, really don’t want information about Prince Charles’ dealings with the government getting out at all. The monarchy and royal family is supposed to be above politics, and they are not supposed to influence government policy. It’s probably because they are supposed to be apolitical, that the monarchy has survived in this country, while other nations have become republics. Political interference from an unelected source is always resented. And so the concern to keep the monarchy out of politics. Hence the monarchy’s ire when Gove or whoever it was in the ‘Brexit’ campaign claim that the Queen also wanted us to leave the EU.

Charles’ negotiations are sensitive, because he’s violated that cardinal rule. The Independent, some of whose columnists had a strongly republican bias, covered several stories in which Charles’ correspondence with various governments over the years was a source of embarrassment, and which they were desperate to stop being released to the public. Among his pet subjects were the closure of the grammar schools. Lugs was thoroughly against this, and wrote numerous letters to the government to try to get them to change this policy and reopen them. The ministers at the receiving end of his correspondence were forced to reply that this was no longer an option.

This is why the government really doesn’t want to release the details of Prince Charles’ discussions with ministers about the environment to the Mail on Sunday: it compromises the position of the monarchy. Not that the Daily Heil is necessarily worried about this in the specific case of Prince Charles. From what I can remember, it has had a profound dislike of the heir to the throne, and has run no end of stories about how he is an embarrassment to the Crown. At one point it ran a story that ‘ministers’ were considering amending the rules of succession, so that it could skip a generation and go either to his sons, or it would pass to the eldest child. In which case, Princess Anne would succeed her mother.

There was a rival of these stories of constitutional tinkering in Private Eye last week in connection to the Commonwealth. The Eye claimed that many Commonwealth countries aren’t impressed with him either, and would also like to change the constitution of the Commonwealth, so that its head was elected. I can see how the various independent countries across the globe would prefer this system, rather than be ruled by the hereditary monarch of the country that invaded and colonised them, as a general principle. But the Eye didn’t mention any of that. Instead, it was just about stopping Charles becoming head of the Commonwealth.

And so the government remains desperate to keep a lid on whatever it is that Prince Charles has said to ministers, while even more enthusiastically snooping on everyone else. And I’m sick of it. I’d far rather we had a government like that of Kurt Eisner, the German Socialist head of Bavaria during the ‘Council Revolution’ of 1919. Eisner was a Jewish theatre critic, who saw Russian-style workers’ soviets not as a replacement for democracy, but as extension. And he had no time for government secrecy. His office was open to everyone, and he quite happily showed members of the public papers marked ‘government secrets’. Unfortunately, he was beaten to death by the Freikorps when they stormed Munich to put the Revolution down. Eisner and his regime may well have been too extreme, but we desperately need some of his faith in genuinely popular and open government here across the North Sea in the 21st century.

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