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Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: Heir on very thin constitutional ice

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The Princes of Wales' correspondence with UK politicians indicates a desire to influence their decisions. Photo / Getty Images
The Princes of Wales' correspondence with UK politicians indicates a desire to influence their decisions. Photo / Getty Images

This week a sweet old man with a friendly smile, a ruddy complexion and the sort of ears that can entertain a toddler for hours, and his wife, a woman who appears constantly worried that she's come out of the toilet with her skirt tucked into her undies, will be moving around the country, looking for all the world like they're judging a perpetual garden show.

Words often used to describe the Queen and her eldest son are "harmless", "switched-on" and "hardworking". That is why citizens of this country tolerate the notion that someone half a world away will be our head of state due to an accident of birth.

Prince Charles, the plant whisperer, falls into that rapidly growing category of people who were "greenie before it was trendy" and have "always been a bit of an environmentalist in my own way". Good for him. But he has also been revealed over the past seven years to be someone obsessed with secrecy and whose dealings with the British government tread a very fine constitutional line at best.

He has gone to great legal lengths to prevent publication - sought by the Guardian newspaper under official information legislation - of 27 letters written to MPs lobbying over matters close to his heart. Topics included, according to testimony by law professor Adam Tomkins, "the perceived merits of holistic medicine, the perceived evils of genetically modified crops, the apparent dangers of making cuts in the armed forces, his strong dislike of certain forms of architecture".

The merits of his opinions are not the issue. The issue is that he is attempting to influence politicians - something which, as monarch, he will be prohibited from doing - and does not want the British public to know this.

After seven years of legal actions, a tribunal of three British judges ruled a month ago that the letters should be released. This decision was vetoed by the Attorney-General who effectively confirmed the letters were damaging by saying their release would "have undermined (the Prince's) position of political neutrality".

In other words, he is not politically neutral. There is now - after pressure from the Royal Family - an absolute block on any future publication.

Why should we care about Charles' efforts to stop British people knowing what he thinks? The British tolerate the institution of monarchy in part as a money-spinning tourist attraction. For us, it doesn't even have that benefit.

Constitutionally, he will be New Zealand's head of state when he ascends the throne. But do we want as head of state - however notional the role - someone who not only flouts constitutional convention by attempting to influence politicians but also tries to conceal the fact when attempts are made to bring it to light?


In ancient Roman times when someone fell on his sword, he fell on his sword. The weapon was fixed point up and the person thrust himself upon it, killing himself. That is how Julius Caesar's assassin, Brutus, met his end.

Former Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson this week was said to have fallen on her sword over the deaths at Pike River by resigning. But by retaining her position in the Cabinet and salary of $257,000 she has managed to fall on her sword without incurring so much as a paper cut.


You will have noted that in all the fuss about the Key-Beckham affair, batshit has maintained a dignified silence. However, I understand it is keeping its options open and has reserved the right to sue the PM for defamation at a future date.

- Herald on Sunday

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