This blog post stems from an article in yesterday’s Guardian purporting to reveal how Charles III will ‘speak his mind’ and make ‘heartfelt interventions’ in national life in matters of which he feels strongly. In the past the Prince of Wales has made his views absolutely clear on issues such as education, healthcare (especially on ‘alternative’ medicine), housing, architecture and young people struggling to find work. However, it is no surprise to say that his views on farming and the environment are amongst his most impassioned topics as an activist. The Duchy Home Farm at Highgrove near Tetbury is a mecca for those who advocate organic farming, including Patrick Holden, CEO and Founder of the Sustainable Food Trust and a former Director of the Soil Association. His love of traditional country skills, such as hedgelaying means that these perhaps would be dying arts are helped that little bit more in raising their profile. His views on climate change and the environment are clear for all because he has actively taken steps to make these views heard. He is also a great supporter of the ‘traditional’ British countryside (wherever that is today) and the people who live in it. In 2010 the Prince of Wales co-authored a book entitled Harmony: A New Way of looking at our World with the environmentalist Tony Juniper and Ian Skelly, in which he explores a number of issues close to his heart. The book received a mixed reception but critically what it did was lay out the Prince’s determination to have his voice heard. He will not be a royal without an opinion.
The question clearly then is does the Prince’s activism jeopardise the future of the Royal family in Britain should he continue this approach as monarch and, as hinted in the title of this post, what may the effects of his activism be on environmental affairs? Charles is an activist by personality and personally I think that it would be a tragedy if he were to be made by the state to shy back from standing tall and proud on this platform. I admire his activism and Buckingham Palace would never be ignorant enough to encourage a PR disaster that they experienced throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. Clarence House has taken a very positive approach to managing the Prince’s personality and critically its success in ‘rebranding’ the Prince following extreme public discontent with him after the Diana scandals has be drawn from the point of his person. Many people like the fact that he speaks his mind and he has views on matters. Without that identity he would not be himself. Clearly he will be a completely different kind of monarch to the constitutionally disciplined Elizabeth II, but why shouldn’t he be? Clearly he mustn’t put the constitution in flux but a shake-up is rarely a bad thing.
Environmentalists and those advocating a more balanced, sustainable agriculture, as I do myself, lack and have lacked for many years a high profile voice. It is something that is needed, as the understanding of these issues, with a largely urban minded and residing population which dominates the Commons, is vastly lacking in governments, being relegated as a niche issue. It is laughable that a man like Owen Paterson could ever have been entrusted with the job of running DEFRA. I am not arguing that Charles should have any say on personnel or the nature of legislation – that would be downright undemocratic. However, he should be allowed to pen his views, in a public arena, on policy which would enhance public debate. A monarchy that could act as a further critique on policy makers and government would, in my view, enhance the system, not degrade it, so long as the monarch’s personal views do not directly affect the final legislation. No matter their background or position people should be able to voice their own views whilst respecting the role they play in society. Healthy debate is always an enhancement and when it comes to agriculture and the environment the profile of the national debate has been distinctly lacking in recent years. If people don’t talk about agriculture and the environment then they cannot develop views on it or appreciate its importance. Population versus incapacity to grow food for our ever increasing and unsustainable population is the elephant in the room. Question Time last night was dominated by the topic of immigration, heralded by the election of Mark Reckless for UKIP in Rochester and Strood. However, immigration is not the problem at all. Immigration usually enhances society and brings much needed skills (none more than in the agricultural sector) for the economy but excessive population is a much wider issue. Because most people don’t usually think about agriculture (they remain unconnected from it and have little understanding of the food system) they don’t see the frailties of the system and our reliance on volatile places abroad for the very food we eat. Our farmers do a superb job in the UK but like it or not there is no way, no matter how much one intensified production, that we would be able to feed our population if we were in a position of having to be self-sustaining. We remain at the liberties of other countries for our food and in an age of Climate Change when food threats (and water threats) will be used as weapons in their own right, it is frightening to think that many do not even think about the issue, let alone think of policy towards it.
Before this debate happens (and it is something that never goes away as an issue on this particular blog) we cannot truly call ourselves a responsible society. Is a society responsible if it is reliant on food imports at a time of increasing food insecurity? Is a government responsible if it takes the issue lightly? The obvious answer is no and yet, arguably, it is the society we live in today. I remain unconfident that this position will change. However, if the future Charles III can throw a spanner in the works, shake up the system and start a national debate then his reign, however long or short it may be, will be one of the most important and influential in the history of the modern monarchy, not just for our generation but perhaps more for the world that future generations will face. As well as his influence on the UK a future environmentalist king could use his influence abroad through his role as head of the Commonwealth. Whereas politicians come and go and their sight only tends to go as far as the next election, a monarch is durable and can see things clearly in the longer term. Society and business (with the exception perhaps of the farming community), although it would like to claim an identity of sustainability and longer duration, is more similar to politics than to monarchy. We identify with the quick fix, the fast buck, jam today without worrying about jam tomorrow. Concerns for the environment have to be coupled with a longer term approach, something that government, with its fixed short terms, cannot effectively plan for. It will be sad day when Elizabeth II passes from us but perhaps there may be at least a small smile on the faces on environmentalists to think that Charles III will be the next man to sit on the throne.