‘Black spider’ letters are a storm in a teacup

Who said the art of letter writing is dead?

Such was the hubbub around the publication of the so-called ‘black spider’ letters by Prince Charles, you could have been forgiven for thinking they were supposed to contain the prose of a modern day Wordsworth, or some form of Machiavellian manipulation of government.

Of course, they contained neither.

The issue, which has been fought over the last decade, has been for the letters to be published to show how the heir to throne is defying convention and meddling in politics. Because he’s not supposed to, you see. His Royal Highness, as some would have you believe, should be seen and not heard.

What we learned from the publication of the letters was that the government arguably wasted its time in trying to prevent their release. The letters showed that, while His Royal Highness has offered views on what might be described as some more eccentric topics (Patagonian Toothfish?), he was also meeting what might be described as the obligation of a public figure to raise concerns about prescient issues, such as the well-being of the Armed Forces in Iraq.

Some commentators cite the convention of the monarch – and be default the heirs to the throne – being above politics. Others will claim the letters show Prince Charles used his position of influence to influence policy. But in the modern world, we should surely be relieved by the reassurance that the heir to the throne is interested in what is going on the in the world and is prepared to engage with it.

Prince Charles’ approach might have to change if and when he becomes King. But for the time being, surely he is as entitled to freedom of speech and a freedom to express his views as the rest of us.