Prince Charles' Memos

In America you are about to elect your Head of State. Barring accidents, here in Britain, we have known who our next Head of State will be for more than sixty years. When the Queen dies, her son, Prince Charles, will succeed her just as night follows day. This year's celebrations of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee provoked a bit of a debate about whether we want a hereditary monarch, although not as much as I'd have liked.

Most people think that as the King or Queen doesn't get involved in politics then it's OK for candidates for the job to come from just one family. But we're about to learn, or I hope we are, that Prince Charles is not content to leave policy matters to elected British Governments.

I know from my time working at Number 10 Downing Street that he is a prolific letter-writer to senior ministers. They are known as black spider memos because of his distinctive handwriting. But while we knew that he wrote, we have never known what he wrote. There has been a blanket ban on the publication of his letters. One newspaper challenged that and the judges have found in its favour. Some, not all, of his letters may now have to be published.

The Prince has strong views on everything from farming to architecture, alternative medicine and the armed services. And his views carry clout. Ministers have no choice but to take them seriously. But did they bow to his pressure?

And what many people don't realise is that if any legislation threatens the Royal Family's private interests, then the Monarch can actually veto it. Now, the Government can try to use the courts to overturn the disclosure ruling, but sooner or later it's all going to come out. And quite right too. How policy decisions are made should be open to public scrutiny.

Now, will the details of Prince Charles' meddling turn us from a nation of flag waving royalists into hard-headed supporters of a republic? No. But a lot of what we saw this year was genuine admiration and love for Queen Elizabeth, not necessarily for the institution. When a very different character becomes our Head of State, I'm quite sure the mood will change. And this ruling in favour of disclosure will go some way at least towards encouraging a debate about the power and not just the glamour of the British monarchy. This is Lance Price for CBS News in London.

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