The monarchy, the media and the masses is a threesome made in tabloid heaven, and it has seen a lot of action during this past month. The birth of Princess Charlotte, and then Prince Harry’s visit to New Zealand….To a quite embarrassing extent, Royal tours seem to turn the clock back to a more innocent time somewhere in the mid-1950s, when us commoners were expected to be agog at the regal gods, as they came walking among us in human form.
Amidst all the regal froth this week, there has also been a right royal scandal. Apparently, Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, wrote some 27 letters to various members of the Blair government as he lobbied government ministers ( and the Prime Minister) on a variety of public policy issues. To put it mildly, the Royal Family is not meant to try and influence government policy in this way, or in any other fashion. Given that the Royal Family are to Britain what pandas are to China, how did the media – here and in the UK – handle a genuine political scandal involving the House of Windsor ?
Naturally, the Guardian – which has led the costly 10 year legal battle to get public access to Charles’ correspondence – has treated the Prince’s lobbying efforts as a major breach of the conventions regarding the political neutrality of the monarchy. The rest of the media though has largely chosen to soft-pedal the story and locate it within the pre-existent perceptions of Charles as an endearingly dotty old buffer who is inclined to get a bit weird now and then about the environment, modern architecture and his animal friends. The NZ Herald for instance, ran the story under the headline “ Kill Badgers, Save The Fish” atop a goofily smiling photo of the future monarch.
The tone of the coverage…the Patagonian tooth-fish has a new best friend ! – was interestingly at odds with the justification put forward by the UK government during its 10 year long battle to keep the letters suppressed. If you believed the UK attorney-general Dominic Grieve, the public would be left feeling shocked, aghast, and forever alienated in future from the man and the monarchy if his correspondence ever saw daylight. According to Grieve, revealing the contents of the letters would do irreperable damage to Charles’ job prospects in future : :
“This risk will arise if, through these letters, the Prince of Wales was viewed by others as disagreeing with government policy. Any such perception would be seriously damaging to his role as future monarch because if he forfeits his position of political neutrality as heir to the throne he cannot easily recover it when he is King,” Grieve had said.
Well, not so much. Not so far, anyway. It took the Guardian coverage to establish that a whole lot more than the welfare of the Patagonian toothfish (and the albatrosses that feed on them) had been on Charles’ mind.
In a single letter in February 2005, he urged a badger cull to prevent the spread of bovine tuberculosis – damning its opponents as “intellectually dishonest”; lobbied for his preferred person to be appointed to crack down on the mistreatment of farmers by supermarkets; proposed his own aide to brief Downing Street on the design of new hospitals; and urged Blair to tackle a European Union directive limiting the use of herbal alternative medicines use in the UK.
This is major meddling, on everything from defence spending to health regulation. Also, the set of Guardian memos isn’t the only instance where Charles has wilfully exerted influence on public policy – but unfortunately, more recent examples will no longer be available to the public :
The bad news for freedom of information campaigners is that rules on disclosure around royal dealings with government are getting tighter. Changes to the Freedom of Information Act in 2010 granted the heir to the throne an absolute exemption from the release of details about his contacts with ministers and senior civil servants.
Point being, this cranky meddler – who is willing to interfere in policy issues across the board as he sees fit – is set to become the King of New Zealand, and as such will be the apex of our constitutional system. In the interludes between our hot flushes over Prince Harry, we are currently considering the adoption of a new flag – but this seems to be occurring in a vacuum, as if it concerned merely the preference for one pretty design over another. Surely, that process is happening the wrong way around. Shouldn’t we first have a debate and a decision about whether we should ditch the monarchy and become a republic – and then choose the flag design that best reflects the public will as to what the flag is supposed to represent ?
TPP Not So Dead After All
Lawmakers in the US Senate have frantically cobbled together a new version of the proposal to endow US President Barack Obama with “fast track” negotiation powers on trade deals. If granted, these Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) powers would exempt the content of the Trans Pacific Partnership (and other such pacts) from Congressional scrutiny. In the first skirmish on Tuesday over whether to debate TPA, the White House lost the vote. Undaunted, a bipartisan group of pro-TPA Senators has rejigged their FTA debate proposal and this morning our time, this new version has passed in the Senate by a margin of 65 – 33.
To get that number, the trade deal element was separated out from riders it had previously carried, on such matters as currency manipulation – which Republicans wanted in order to target China for the edge this gives to Chinese exports. Another rider, wanted by Democrats to compensate workers displaced by trade deals, was also put to one side for now.
These issues will return in the amendment phase of the process, as the Senate – having now decided that it will debate TPA after all – gets down to the hard business of deciding what amendments it will try to re-attach, before it actually votes to endorse or reject TPA. Even if it passes the Senate (and the White House wants this done and dusted by the end of this session on May 22) the TPA will be a tougher, closer contest in the House of Representatives. Yet for now TPA is back in play, and with it, so is the TPP.
We all occasionally mishear lyrics in strange and amusing ways, and entire websites have been devoted to the likes of Jimi Hendrix saying “Scuse me while I kiss the sky”, and this line being misheard as “kiss this guy”…But its very uncommon for the lyric to be misheard by the record company issuing the music. Here’s a stellar example of this rare event. In 1964, Prince Buster’s risqué ska number “She Pon Top” got mistakenly released in the UK as the even more risqué “Sheep on Top.” Actually, I’m not sure – listening to the arrangement – whether Buster wasn’t deliberately playing on the potential for confusion.