These cases are an enraging reminder that the privileged have a very different view of justice, says Guardian columnist Gaby Hinsliff
Guardian analysis appears to support claim Duchess of Sussex receives more critical treatment than Duchess of Cambridge
Win or lose against the Mail on Sunday, the princess has displayed courage in breaking free of the media’s expectations, says Guardian columnist Zoe Williams
When royals try to be entrepreneurial or work with billionaires, it doesn’t usually go well. Still, there’s always the acting, says Guardian columnist Gaby Hinsliff
The Duke of York has been sacked, but he is unlikely to show up in the UK’s unemployment figures, says Guardian columnist Marina Hyde
‘…………….By Kevin McKenna
The chancellor is applauded while the poor get poorer, and Glasgow names its new hospital after Her Majesty. Enough said
Each time you think the gas that has anaesthetised British working people for generations is about to wear off, the Tories find a new vein of naivety and we all duly return to our slumbers. To observe the reverence and veneration with which the first Tory budget for 19 years was received on Wednesday, you’d have thought that George Osborne had pledged personally to tour the UK’s edgier arrondissements handing out a free Curly Wurly to every street urchin.
There was something for everyone in this one nation budget for working people, trilled the Oxbridge lickspittles, working hard for the cause in the London commentariat. It was left to the Institute for Fiscal Studies to intervene two days later to attempt to lift the scales from our eyes. IFS director Paul Johnson said: “The changes overall are regressive – taking much more from poorer households than richer ones.”
This year’s sleight-of-hand to keep us all moving along peacefully in line was Osborne’s rebranding of the minimum wage as a national living wage at £7.20 an hour. The Living Wage Foundation already calculates a proper living wage at £7.85 outside London, while the losses that millions of families will experience through cuts to their tax credits utterly negate the effect of those few crumbs from the chancellor’s table.
Stitched into the fabric of this budget was an old, familiar pattern: dozens of little impositions on the worst-off in our society and the ringfencing of the privileges and advantages that ensure the UK remains among the most unequal societies in the developed world, according to Oxfam. More than 13 million families will lose £260 a year, while 3 million families will lose around £1,000 a year, mainly owing to the cut in what workers can earn before they qualify for universal tax credits.
In such small and wicked ways are the ramparts of the old social order reinforced. In the same week, we were reminded how familiar Osborne is with the way tax laws can work for those at the top of society. Earlier in the week, Channel 4 revealed that his family business pocketed £6m in a property deal with a developer based in a tax haven.
Bang on cue was the release of the latest pictures of a royal baby, Charlotte, the progeny of William and Kate. We’ve had Kate pregnant; Kate with the new baby, pictures of the new baby on her own; pictures of her with her big brother and now the christening. The latter were just charming enough to avert the eyes of some of the masses from the raid on their household incomes. The role of the royal family in recent years has come to resemble that of useful idiots to the British establishment. The fecundity of this otherwise unremarkable and dysfunctional clan of underachievers has provided decades of marriages, children and jubilees, which the real ruling class deploys to make the rest of us think that this must be the natural order of things.
The handmaidens of this royal bread and circuses act are the British army. Thus multitudes of the youngest and bravest from our poorest communities are routinely sacrificed in somebody else’s tawdry little war to ensure that Big British Business keeps the profits up. As an added knee to the groin, we confer pantomime commissions in the armed forces for the royals, even though most of them will have only seen action cowering behind rocks on a shooting estate, slaughtering Scotland’s wild beasties from safe distances.
That many of these businesses routinely avoid paying corporation tax and, as theGuardian reported last week, are still handed £93bn in grants and hidden subsidies is simply further evidence of why Britain has one of the most deferential, meek and supine citizenries in the world. While most of Europe has experienced revolutions and other social convulsions, we and our ancestors have dutifully fought in the wars of empire and avarice and have our tummies tickled by the insincere smiles of a Walt Disney royal family.
Once, for a few golden decades, we had a Labour party that intervened to ensure working people might have a few of the benefits that had been the exclusive entitlements of the aristocracy: good health, decent homes, proper wages and a solid education. That party no longer exists and the final proof of its demise was written in Osborne’s budget. That some of Labour’s big ideas for alleviating austerity and inequality found their way into the spending plans of this latterday Sheriff of Nottingham tells us all we need to know of the extent of the harrowing of Labour. How radical can your plans be if they’re acceptable to George Osborne?
Furthermore, it confirms what many of us have long suspected: that the anatomy and matrixes of power in England evolve in the drinking clubs of Oxford and Cambridge. There, some are chosen to represent Conservatism and asked to uphold ancient privileges and the writ of the free market, while others are asked to represent Labour and to ensure that the workers don’t get too many ideas above themselves and that a semblance of democracy is maintained.
In Scotland, it seems, deference and knowing your place in the old order of things remain endemic. Even when something approaching a significant political upheaval occurs, there are reminders of how tough it will always be to effect real and radical change. Thus, when Scotland’s newest and biggest super-hospital, the South Glasgow University Hospital, was completed last year at a cost of £842m it was regarded as a glittering symbol of the egalitarian principles of the NHS. This was before its name was changed to the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in honour of a woman with no connection to Glasgow and whose family, courtesy of we, the idiot taxpayers, will always be treated in the country’s most expensive private facilities.
George Osborne’s raid on the incomes of the poor will cause many more west of Scotland families to be treated at South Glasgow, yet none of them was consulted about the name change. It was simply decided and nodded through by the civil service mandarins whose job it is to ensure that Deference, Privilege and Entitlement will prevail, come what may.
Publication of 27 letters after 10-year legal battle shows heir to the throne petitioning ministers on subjects from the Iraq war to alternative therapies
A cache of secret memos between Prince Charles and senior government ministers has been released after a 10-year legal battle, offering the clearest picture yet of the breadth and depth of the heir to the throne’s lobbying at the highest level of politics.
The 27 memos, sent in 2004 and 2005 and released only after the Guardian won its long freedom of information fight with the government, show the Prince of Wales making direct and persistent policy demands to the then prime minister Tony Blair and several key figures in his Labour government.
In a single letter in February 2005, he urged a badger cull to prevent the spread of bovine tuberculosis – damning its opponents as “intellectually dishonest”; lobbied for his preferred person to be appointed to crack down on the mistreatment of farmers by supermarkets; proposed his own aide to brief Downing Street on the design of new hospitals; and urged Blair to tackle a European Union directive limiting the use of herbal alternative medicines use in the UK.
The government has spent more than £400,000 on legal costs in its ultimately failed attempt to block the original 2005 freedom of information request by the Guardian journalist Rob Evans. The case was eventually decided at the supreme court and the decade-long saga involved in total 16 different judges.
David Cameron’s last government attempted to veto the release. In 2012 the then attorney general, Dominic Grieve, warned they “would be seriously damaging to his role as future monarch because, if he forfeits his position of political neutrality as heir to the throne, he cannot easily recover it when he is king”.
But following the release of the “black spider” memos – so-called because of the prince’s scrawled handwriting – there were questions on Wednesday about whether it was worth the money to try to keep secret details of his lobbying, some of which reflects Charles’s very narrow personal interests.
For example, in October 2004 he told the environment minister Elliot Morley he hoped “illegal fishing of the Patagonian toothfish will be high up on your list of priorities because until that trade is stopped, there is little hope for the poor old albatross”.
But they also cover more controversial subjects. In one memo, Charles explicitly lobbied Tony Blair when he was prime minister to replace Lynx military helicopters.
Charles complained that delays in their replacement was “one more example where our Armed forces are being asked to do an extremely challenging job (particularly in Iraq) without the necessary resources”. Blair responded that replacement would be a priority for spending.
He directly urged the health secretary, John Reid, to accelerate redevelopment at a hospital site in Sunderland in which his own architecture charity was involved, warning bluntly that “chickens will come home to roost” in Reid’s government department if action was not taken.
The letters revealed not only that ministers often responded actively to his suggestions but they appeared to hold his interventions in high regard.
Blair replied to him in one letter: “I always value and look forward to your views – but perhaps particularly on agricultural topics.”
After Charles Clarke, then education secretary, responded to Charles’ complaint about the nutritional content of school meals, he signed off: “I have the honour to be, Sir, Your Royal Highness’s most humble and obedient servant.”
The memos also reveal how dogged Charles can be in demanding actions from ministers as it emerged that his engagement with key political players has not abated. Since the beginning of 2010, the prince held 87 meetings with ministers, opposition party leaders and top government officials, new figures release by the campaign group Republic showed. This year he has held meetings with, among others, David Cameron, the Scottish National party leader, Nicola Sturgeon, the education secretary, Nicky Morgan, and Alistair Carmichael, then Scotland secretary.
The letters emerged amid growing signs that Prince Charles is planning to rule in a far more outspoken way than the taciturn Queen. Allies told the Guardian last year he planned “heartfelt interventions” in national life, while in 2013 his friend and biographer Jonathan Dimbleby said: “A quiet constitutional revolution is afoot.”
But this is likely to be the only glimpse the British public gets of Charles’ correspondence with ministers. Since the original Guardian request to see the letters the government has tightened up the Freedom of Information Act to provide an “absolute exemption” on all requests relating to the Queen and the heir to the throne.
Paul Flynn, a Labour MP and member of the political and constitutional reform committee, said the letters lifted the lid on the activity of the “the lobbyist supreme in the land”.
“They show he is putting forward a whole variety of views – including many bad science views and others that should have no more weight than the man down the pub,” he said. “We can see his views were given a seriousness and priority they did not deserve.”
Prince Charles was said to be “disappointed” the principle of confidentiality had not been maintained, and his spokeswoman said publication “can only inhibit his ability to express the concerns and suggestions which have been put to him in the course of his travels and meetings”.
But aides argue the letters do not show the prince engaging in matters of party political contention, implying they do not breach the principle of political neutrality.
“The letters published by the government show the Prince of Wales expressing concern about issues that he has raised in public,” his spokeswoman said. “In all these cases, the Prince of Wales is raising issues of public concern, and trying to find practical ways to address the issues.”
But the Guardian’s editor-in-chief, Alan Rusbridger, said: “We fought this case because we believed – and the most senior judges in the country agreed – that the royal family should operate to the same degrees of transparency as anyone else trying to make their influence felt in public life. The attorney general, in trying to block the letters, said their contents could ‘seriously damage’ perceptions of the prince’s political neutrality.
“Whatever the rights and wrongs of that assessment, it is shocking that the government wasted hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money trying to prevent their publication. Now, after 10 years, we are pleased to be able to share the contents of his correspondence and let people draw their own conclusions.”
Graham Smith, chief executive of Republic, which campaigns for an elected head of state, said: “These letters are only a small indication of widespread lobbying that’s been going on for years. We now need full disclosure and an assessment of his impact on government policy.”
Maurice Frankel, director of the UK Campaign for Freedom of Information, said: “The release of the Charles memos represents a major victory for the freedom of information process, showing that ministers cannot block disclosure simply because they don’t like the result.”
Michael Meacher, a former Labour environment secretary who received private letters from Charles about policy, called for a new system of transparency around his correspondence with ministers when he becomes king to “remove public suspicion from the process”.
“A brief statement would be made when the king has written to a minister and the subject would be obvious,” he said. “At least we would know he has been giving his opinions and, some would say, lobbying ministers.”
The Queen, Elizabeth II when it comes to politics, the monarch is ‘neutral’. The Queen doesn’t get involved in running the government. Nor does she publicly say what she thinks about political issues. This is why people sometimes say the monarch is ‘above politics’. We have a Constitutional Monarchy. In England, the Glorious Revolution of 1688 led to a constitutional English monarchy restricted by laws such as the Bill of Rights 1689 and the Act of Settlement 1701
Can you see Charles doing this?
He may cause a turn of the tide and the majority of the country could then want a Republic. This would leave the door open for Mr Blair to become President, not a prospect I would relish, as he created many problems for the country when he was Prime Minister, although he does not believe so.