Bill Carmichael: Tangled web over Charles’s ‘Black Spider’ letters

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THE release of the “Black Spider” letters that Prince Charles wrote to Ministers in the Blair government was greeted with lip-smacking relish in some quarters.

Even before their publication on Wednesday after a 10-year legal battle, Labour MP Paul Flynn was accusing the Prince of Wales of breaching his duty of impartiality and claimed this made him unfit to be our future king.

Anti-monarchy pressure group Republic was also quick to stick the boot in, gloating that it was expecting a surge in support for republicanism because Charles had undermined the constitutional consensus by – shock, horror – expressing an opinion.

So what exactly did Charles write about to Ministers? One of the main themes that concerned him was the inadequacy of the equipment used by British forces in Iraq. You have to remember at the time that this was nothing short of a national scandal. Tony Blair was happy to strut the global stage as the world’s policeman, but Labour also starved the military of the funds needed to do the job properly.

As a result, our servicemen and women were being killed and maimed because the kit they were using wasn’t good enough. Is what Charles wrote really so controversial? Is there anyone outside the lunatic fringe of the Left who believes soldiers should not be properly equipped when going into battle?

And don’t forget that the Prince of Wales holds honorary rank in no fewer than 24 regiments around the world. If a Commander-in-Chief or senior officer, such as Charles, won’t speak up on behalf of men and women risking their lives for Queen and country, then who will? Certainly not Labour Ministers.

Another recurring theme in Charles’s letters is his championing of British farming. He expressed the view that there needed to be more support for hill and beef farmers and feared the big supermarkets held too much power over food producers.

Again, you’d have to take a long, long hike in my part of Yorkshire before you could find anyone who would disagree even slightly with these sentiments.

He also objected to heavy-handed interference by EU bureaucrats in the regulation of herbal medicines, which have been used for years without causing any noticeable harm, and suggested that old-fashioned teaching that “imparted a body of knowledge” might be valuable in modern classrooms. All eminently sensible, not particularly controversial and certainly not party political.

I have to admit I have not always been the Prince’s biggest fan.

Sometimes he can make himself look ridiculous, like the time a few years ago he flew to New York, complete with 13-strong entourage, to pick up an environmental award.

But what these letters show is that he is a decent and compassionate man who cares deeply about the wellbeing of this country and its people.

Why shouldn’t he offer the benefit of his wisdom and experience to callow Ministers who often have little experience outside the Westminster bubble?

I don’t expect this will shield him from a barrage of ill-informed criticism. As we saw after last week’s election result, nothing upsets the modern Left as much as someone acting sensibly.

For that reason I stayed off social media on Wednesday after the letters were published. I’ve had enough of the incessant whining and adolescent foot stomping from a bunch of sore losers.

And could it be that among the decent majority in this country Charles’s notes to ministers, far from damaging his reputation, will end up enhancing it?

Scots count cost

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has been calling for “full fiscal autonomy” – or full control over taxing and spending north of the border. But when the Government called her bluff, and indicated it was prepared to consider such a move, she began to backtrack, saying she now wants the idea implemented over several years.

This is because if Scotland immediately weaned itself off the teat of English subsidies it would find itself with a £8bn shortfall forcing it to massively cut services and increase taxes.

This is clearly the way forward – if the Scots want to increase spending and make benefits even more lavish, they should be free to do so, as long as Scottish taxpayers pick up the whole bill without any subsidies from south of the border.