The infamous letters from Prince Charles to various Government ministers, known as the ‘Black Spider Memos’, have been released in to the public domain. The 27 letters, written between 2004 and 2005, have been released after a decade long campaign by The Guardian, calling for their publication.
Charles’s letters were sent to a number of government departments during Tony Blair’s time as Prime Minister and
now upon their release, the letters will be examined for any evidence of pressure brought to bear by a hereditary monarch-in-waiting on elected ministers. The letters will also be thoroughly scrutinized to determine whether Prince Charles’s correspondence influenced Government policy change because of his personal intervention.
The Prince of Wales’s letters were to ministers in the departments of business, innovation and skills, health, children, schools and families as well as the department of media and sport, the Northern Ireland Office and the Cabinet Office.
The letters will either prove to be benign or heighten the public’s thoughts that the heir to the throne has been in the habit of simply overstepping the mark and being involved in business that is really not his to be involved with.
One of the letters released on Wednesday was to Prime Minister Tony Blair which saw him correspond with the Labour Party leader on issues of particular concern to him including supporting hill farmers, bovine tuberculosis and procuring British produce. “Every support must be given to beef farmers so that they can seize the new opportunities and cope with the reduction in support.” This particular letter also sees Prince Charles point out to Mr Blair that farmers are struggling to cope with new business processes.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Labour’s former Europe Minister, Denis MacShane, commented on the controversial memos, “The problem is no member of The Royal Family will ever dare to write a letter to the Government again for fear their private views will be front page news. I think he should be able to communicate with the government privately.”
They may be the thoughts of many however it is also the view of a lot of people that the letters should have been published a long time ago. Guardian journalist, Rob Evans, originally applied to see the letters under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 though this was initially denied by the information commissioner and was followed by several legal decisions.
Another such of these letters shows Prince Charles’s correspondence with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. This particular memo from The Prince of Wales sees him offer the help and expertise of his charities to find a new and practical solution to help save Armagh Gaol, a site that had been sat vacant for the previous 20 years. “I mentioned the issue of Armagh Gaol and suggested that my Phoenix Trust would be only too happy to help with any advice with regard to its conservation and re-use.” Following this letter to the Secretary of State, the Princes Regeneration Trust worked alongside the Trevor Osborne Group and Armagh City Council in the successful regeneration of Armagh Gaol.
The recently published letters have divided opinion across the nation, with many people torn over whether they should have been released or not. Prime Minister David Cameron called the Supreme Court ruling to release the letters “disappointing” whilst a Clarence House spokesperson commented that “the principle of privacy has not been upheld.”
Though many were expecting the ‘Black Spider Memos’ to be both controversial and to damage the reputation of The Prince of Wales, it does appear that a majority of his correspondence to government ministers were because of his love for this country and its people. One such letter that demonstrates his love for Britain was to the Secretary of State for Culture, Tessa Jowell, in 2005 when parts of Smithfield Market in London were threatened with demolition. “I attach the greatest importance to preserving, restoring and re-using such precious heritage townscapes and I can only pray that the Deputy Prime Minister will take your advice and give the most careful consideration to development plans.” Smithfield Market was the only wholesale market that remains in its original location within the Square Mile of the City of London.
Clarence House released a statement shortly after the publication of the ‘Black Spider Memos’ clarifying just why these correspondences were made between Prince Charles and Whitehall. “The Prince of Wales cares deeply about this country, and tries to use his unique position to help others. He has devoted most of his working life to helping individuals and organisations, to make a difference for the better of this country and the world.” Clarence House concludes their statement by saying, “Clarence House continues to believe in the principle of privacy.” That is something that will be questioned in the coming days, was it worth the anticipation and potential damage to Prince Charles to release a set of letters that do nothing but remind us that Prince Charles is committed to the cause of helping his fellow countrymen and those across the globe.
The letters are known as the ‘Black Spider Memos’ because of Prince Charles’s distinctive handwriting and use of underlining and exclamation marks.
Various other letters have been released from Prince Charles and include one to Tony Blair highlighting his concerns over the Iraq War, to the Minister for Environment on illegal fishing, to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on her meeting with charity In Kind Direct and to the Secretary of State for Health on herbal medicine and acupuncture.
So as the not so controversial letters are now in the public domain, it appears that The Prince of Wales’s reputation as a caring, considerate and dutiful heir to the throne is still very much intact.
Photo Credit: Victoria Johnson
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