The Prince of Wales may have some wacky views - but they seem to be shared by government ministers.
The Prince of Wales is being blamed for irrational anti-science prejudices that actually have their origins in government and media circles, says Rob Lyons.
Prince Charles is ‘the meddling prince’ according to a Dispatches documentary broadcast last night on Channel 4. The programme alleged that the prince uses his position to lobby ministers on his pet subjects while hiding behind exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act; avoids tax by using his ‘unique’ position; and is poor ‘value for money’.
Charles has certainly made his position abundantly clear on a range of issues including architecture, alternative medicine and organic food. Despite his popularity with some ‘radical’ campaigners, his views are deeply conservative, anti-scientific and irrational. And, much to the irritation of ministers, he loves to write them mildly apologetic letters pointing out things that he thinks they should know – rather like a sad serial correspondent to the Daily Mail letters page. His position may open doors for him, but if he’s simply regarded as a slightly barmy old uncle you have to be nice to, it’s not exactly winning him much influence.
The criticism of his landholdings, tax position and expenditure seems a bit peculiar: he’s a member of the royal family, so of course he’s a parasite. The real problem is not that he doesn’t represent good value for money. After all, his mother is the richest woman in the world but everybody apparently likes her (when in truth, they really like Helen Mirren). No, the problem is that these people rule over us not by merit but by accident of birth. Who cares if Charles has expensive tastes? The very existence of a ‘Prince of Wales’ is a daily affront to democracy.
What we should be more concerned about is the lack of faith in science and democracy at the heart of government, and also in the media and even in scientific circles these days. One of the Dispatches programme’s key allegations was that it was lobbying by Charles that persuaded the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to allow homeopathic medicines to be sold without needing to provide evidence to support their health claims. As Lib Dem MP Dr Evan Harris pointed out, this flew in the face of any sensible medical or scientific advice. The programme suggested it was Charles wot done it.
The MHRA is accountable to the Department of Health, and ultimately 10 Downing Street, not Clarence House. If there is official sanction for ‘complementary medicine’ (ie, unproven quackery – if it worked it would just be called ‘medicine’), we need to point the finger at our elected leaders. The National Health Service (NHS) has also supported complementary medicine, a move angrily denounced by Professor Michael Baum on spiked (see What role for complementary medicine in treating cancer?).
If the role of politicians as ‘symbolic leaders’ means anything, than the weird and wonderful obsessions at Downing Street seem to confirm a view where scientific medicine doesn’t count for much. Mrs Blair seems to have been taken in by all sorts of mystical nonsense, particularly anything involving crystals. And just to prove that Tony was along for the ride, the first couple took part in a Mayan ‘rebirthing experience’ while on holiday on the Mexican Riviera in 2001. Perhaps most significant of all was the refusal by the Blairs to tell the public whether they had given their baby son the MMR vaccine – a strong hint that they, too, were influenced by the panic around it and in direct contradiction to government advice to parents.
If Charles has had any influence on government policy on medicine, organic food or any of his other hobby horses, he’s been pushing at an open door. While it would be far better if we abolished the monarchy and hereditary privilege once and for all, vilifying Charles for being a lobbyist only lets the people who really make these decisions off the hook. Let Charles make his poncy statements on McDonald’s, medicine and the rest; and let the rest of us get on with challenging the widespread anti-human and anti-science prejudices that sustain this silly prince today.
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