Opinion: Prince Charles has gone too far this time

Prince CharlesIt was ironic to watch the news today. Two politicians who (I suspect) do not much care for Prince Charles’s views in general  were speaking in his defence, whereas one who might be expected to be more sympathetic was being more critical. It was the latter, Nigel Farage, who was right. He said of Prince Charles’s comments, likening Vladimir Putin to Adolf Hitler, that there are some things the Prince should leave to the professional politicians.

Nick Clegg and Ed Milliband, on the other hand, were arguing that the Prince had a right to have his views and express them, or words to that effect. Prince Charles does indeed have a right to have his own private opinions, and he is not the first to have compared the actions of today’s Russia with yesterday’s Nazi Germany.

BUT, Prince Charles does not have the right to drop a bomb into the middle of British-Russian relations like this. It’s not just indiscreet, it is downright dangerous. There is no knowing what sort of negotiations are currently underway between Britain and Russia. We may be discussing trade, Ukraine, the scaling down of nuclear weapons or ballistic missile defence among other things.  If we are, we don’t want those discussions jeopardised. It is a matter of common knowledge that British – Russian relations are not good, Prince Charles can have little idea of what harm he might be doing. I accept that he made his comment ‘privately’ and that he was sympathising with someone who probably deserves some sympathy, but he must know how ‘un-private’ private comments can become. On the whole I like Prince Charles and have always considered him an intelligent and thoughtful man, but he has overstepped the mark this time. Never again please.

 

* Steve Coltman is parliamentary spokesperson for Loughborough and an Executive member of the Association of Liberal Democrat Engineers and Scientists although he writing here in a personal capacity.

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35 Comments

  • Can anyone explain what is the difference between:
    a) annexing the Sudetenland to protect the rights of German speakers.in a part of the world that was in Germany three decades earlier, and
    b) annexing Crimea to protect the rights of Russian speakers.in a part of the world that was in Russia six decades earlier?

    Or perhaps the exam question should be:
    “Compare and contrast Saarland Referendum of 1935 with the Crimea Referendum of 2014.”

    This was a private conversation, but the fact that its become public shows that Charles at least understands the issues. I’m not a Royalist, but I’m glad he’s made these comments.

  • Charles Rothwell 24th May '14 - 11:05am

    ” Prince Charles can have little idea of what harm he might be doing.”. Well, he ****ed well SHOULD have! He is certainly old enough (and experienced enough) to know by now, one would imagine, when he should not say anything which could be overheard and escape into the public domain. You only had to see the TV pictures of the tea party to realise that there were journalists (notepads in hand!) all over the place just waiting to catch some newsworthy gaffe! I agree with Nick’s view that Charles is entitled to say what he wants in private (who is not?) but this was not ‘in private’ in the sense of a completely ‘sealed’ meeting without journalists/media people being anywhere in sight. If he is such a fool as not to realise the dangers inherent in the situation, then serious thought should really be given to passing him over and handing the succession directly to William (who has, apparently, learnt to follow the example of his grandmother (thank heavens) much more than of his father to date). To compare Putin to Hitler when Putin lost a brother to the Nazis and within days of both the Russian anniversary of the end of the Second World War (Russian/Soviet losses at least 20 million) and also within days of Putin’s radically de-escalating tensions over Ukraine by ordering Russian troops back to their bases and away from the border with the latter country simply amounts to crass stupidity and one imagines any junior diplomat saying the same would be roasted. As the story of Charles’ distant relatives the Romanovs goes to prove, monarchy is a very (very) precarious system with which to ‘choose’ your Head of State and for every Peter the Great and Elizabeth II, you unfortunately also get a heck of a lot of Nicholas II and Charles (probably not ‘III’!) (I am intrigued by the “intelligent” man you detect in him; “thoughtful” OK (in certain, limited spheres (architecture, providing opportunities for disadvantaged young people etc)) but the two are by no means the same).

  • @Steve Comer

    It’s not his constitutional role to understand the issues. He in unelected, and must remain non-partisan, and not interfere with government matters. His only constitutional role is to exist without prejudice – until, potentially, he becomes Head of State, upon which a hold host of other constitutional roles are added – but the need to remain quiet is not removed.

  • Richard Dean 24th May '14 - 11:13am

    Nice to see something outward-looking on LDV for a change. A breath of fresh air! An escape from the imprisoning pressure!

    But many people agree with Charles, and not only here in the UK but elsewhere too. Putin’s mistaken actions have done a huge amount of damage to Russia’s reputation and so its long-term interests around the world, and his complaint is compounding the error. If Putin wants to argue against that interpretation, he needs to actually present arguments, not try to use force to suppress it.

  • He is entitled to his views – when he stands for election. National representatives should never be able to influence policy or international relations unless they can at least be held to account in some way.

    The conversation was not a private one. He was at an event in his official capacity talking to a member of the public. What about if David Cameron said the same thing to a worker at a factory he was visiting, or to a parent at a school? Would that also be ‘private’?

  • No he hasn’t and I agree with Price Charles 100% and I think Mr Clegg does too reading through the lines. I am always delighted when the Royal Family state their views just as the Queen did with the miners strike, Prince Charles did on architecture and reassuring to know that his views are diametrically opposted to the Isolationist party on this issue of comparing the actions of Putin in Ukraine with Hitler.

  • It was risky to say this but Prince Charles was right in his analysis and maybe he has clarified the issue for many people.

    One thing which has been overlooked is that Russia was the ally of Nazi Germany in the destruction of Poland and remained so from 1939 until 1941 when Hitler unexpectedly ( for Stalin anyway ) invaded Russia . During this period Britain stood alone against the horrors of Nazi Germany until the USA felt we were on our knees and would welcome their help at any price. Russia paid a very high price for the alliance between Hitler and Stalin. I guess that is what happens when thieves fall out although it was the ordinary Russian people who paid the price. Putin may not be Hitler but he has followed the same policies when he thinks he can get away with it and whenever he backs down as he appears to be doing at the moment that is just a tactic. The Russians have been very successful in presenting themselves as the only country willing to take on Hitler but the facts do not support their propaganda.

  • I support Prince Charles in that he should be allowed an opinion further even though you may argue that it was not in private he never stood on camera or in front of a mic and said it. His comment was his view and some will agree.

    I do feel sorry for the families of the Russian families who felt offended by the comment, my dad fought in WW2 and I think he would turn in his grave looking at world affairs now let alone how GB has become. I doubt he would feel what he had fought for still stands true today

  • The last time I checked, Prince Charles was still not King, and therefore is under no constitutional obligation to pretend to a spurious neutrality. I am not keen on depriving individuals of their right to speak their minds; that hardly appears to me to be liberalism.

  • If Charles wants to be a politician he can stand for election and renounce any claim to be head of state. We simply cannot have unelected heads of state, or future heads, with no accountability sticking their noses in to things which are not their concern.

    In fact, we shouldn’t have hereditary heads of state in the first place, that would remove all the damage he can, and most likely will do, and will make the country a fairer, more representative place.

  • Charles is entirely correct about the actions of expansist Putler. Its about time someone pointed this out. As for relations, if Russia cared about maintaining good relations they wouldn’t go around London terminating expats with polonium. Its only a shame that we cant see who whether Putler or Charles has the biggest palace. My money is on the Russian.

  • No that’s rubbish and the definition of Nazism extends well beyond that and someone with a Jewish background would know that and of course Prince Charles can say what he likes and as far as I am concerned his comments on anything and everything are welcome. More power to his elbow and it’s good to see a member of our Royal Family standing up to dictators and those who chose to invade other states and usurp their territory.

  • Grotesquely SHOCKING! That you could believe that “talks about trade” are more important than human rights – those rights which are violated by an “anschluss”. That is what Crimea was, and HRH was perfectly correct to liken the actions of Putin to those of Hitler. Oh, and by the way, everyone would do well to learn to distinguish between “likening [x] to [yy]” and “likening the actions of [x] to those of [y]”.

    As for “expecting Farage to be more sympathetic” well, you’ve got that completely wrong. Farage is an isolationist. He couldn’t give a fig about Ukraine because there are no circumstances in which he would want the UK to get involved in disputes in other parts of Europe.

    As for Ed Milliband, for once he actually said something better than Nick Clegg! Milliband said “perhaps Prince Charles has got a point” which is rather more to the point than the generalised “He’s got a right to hold an opinion”. You seemed to have ignored that rather fundamental difference in what Nick and Ed said.

    So, Steve, absolutely everything about your article is wrong in every respect.

  • A further point, to those who have commented how wrong it must be to offend Russians (by likening their actions to those of the Nazis) because their grandparents all fought the Nazis 80 years ago, or because Putin himself lost family members to the Nazis: it’s as absurd to believe that as it is to believe that all Germans must still be Nazis 80 years later.

    It was only a 100-odd years after protracted wars with France that we were defending them with all the might of British Empire and every ounce of our blood, against the Germans and Astria-Hungary. Twice. In very little time, in the grand scale of things, France went from public enemy number 1 to one of our closest allies.

    Germany went quickly from Nazi monster state to a bastion of freedom and democracy living right under the shadow of the Soviet Union, in no time at all.

    The Soviet Union, even quicker than that, turned from our ally in WWII into a land-grabbing repressive empire, eating up half of Europe.

    Things change. Countries change – remarkably quickly. The oppressed can become the oppressors and can commit worse atrocities than those who persecuted them. It happens all the time.

    The Soviet Union abused its victory and became our instant enemy. The modern Russia that we thought was moving in a new direction has shown its true colours recently. It’s blatantly absurd to suggest that we can’t liken their actions to the Nazi anschluss just because they were “on our side” 80 years ago. As absurd as calling France our number 1 enemy because of Napolean.

  • Stuart Mitchell 24th May '14 - 4:11pm

    @Michael Kilpatrick
    You rather undermine your argument there by saying that “we” defended France with “every ounce of our blood” one hundred years ago. These things do indeed run deep and transcend generations.

    I don’t agree with your view of the Crimean situation at all. Most people – even the most fervent anti-Russians – seem to accept that most Crimeans would rather be part of Russia than Ukraine. Crimeans’ rights were trampled on for over 20 years by successive Kiev governments – how much did you complain about that? The denial of a referendum in the ’90s was outrageous, tantamount to London pulling the plug on the Scottish independence referendum. When Ukraine collapsed in to chaos – a situation that was not the making of the Crimeans or Russians – the Crimeans saw that as their opportunity to get out of a country they had never really wanted to be a part of. If that’s what they wanted – and I see no evidence that they didn’t – then good for them.

  • Stuart Mitchell: Just because “most Crimeans would rather be part of Russia…” doesn’t mean that it should have become part of Russia by means of an “anschluss”. A referendum was conducted at a time when Russian troops, “little green men” were effectively controlling the region – and were later admitted by Putin to have been Russian troops. The referendum, regardless of whether one had previously been rejected as an idea in Kiev – was illegal and was conducted under a state of occupation. Crimea didn’t “collapse into chaos” in the same way that Kiev did at the time of the ousting of Yanukovych. Neither did Donetsk, for that matter. Separatists (and in the case of Crimea, Russia itself) took advantage of the power vacuum to create unrest.

    So, it was an anschluss, and Russia has become an agressively nationalistic country which believes that all Russian speakers without its borders should be part of Russia, and run by a man who wants to recreate the power of the Soviet Union. It’s as simple as that, and the question is then simply whether Prince Charles was right to compare the actions of Putin with those of Hitler.

  • Richard Wassell 24th May '14 - 5:56pm

    When the royals are in Canada, anything they say or do is in their capacity as members of the royal family of Canada – not Britain. Canada is a separate country which shares a monarch with ourselves – that’s why in Canada she is known as Queen of Canada.

    So whether he was correct (I think he was) and within his rights to say it (I think he was) is a matter for Canadians. Putin’s objections are this misdirected as well as impertinent.

  • Richard Wassell. Good point. Just to wind Putin up the British government should ask him to address his comments to the Canadian government!

  • Richard Dean 24th May '14 - 6:46pm

    The planet he and Charles are living on is called Earth. This particular part is called England. It is populated by real people many of whom are interested in what Charles has to say. So “prattling on” is one reason to vote LibDem, particularly since the party as a whole doesn’t have much in the way of policies. Pity the poor Focus deliverer isn’t in the same world!

  • Erm, did our leader “chose that day to prattle on about PrinceCharles” or was he simply asked a specific question by a journalist? Why attempt to turn this issue into yet more Clegg-bashing as a knee-jerk reaction to a poor showing in the elections?

  • Stuart Mitchell 24th May '14 - 8:06pm

    @Michael Kilpatrick
    “Just because ‘most Crimeans would rather be part of Russia…’ doesn’t mean that it should have become part of Russia by means of an ‘anschluss’.”

    However imperfect this was, it seemed to be the only way Crimeans were ever going to get what they wanted given that the Ukraine government had shamefully denied them the referendum they wanted for decades. I’m squarely on the side of self-determination for Crimea here.

    It’s interesting that those who rejected the referendum on the grounds of the unstable and militarised conditions there seem to have no such reservations about the election that is taking place in Ukraine tomorrow, despite the appalling bloodshed in parts of Ukraine in recent weeks.

  • Stuart Mitchell. You’re jumping the gun. You’ve got absolutely no idea what could have happened had Crimea not been annexed but had remained in Ukraine and, in conjunction with any dissatisfaction in Donetsk and Luhansk, resulted in a new constitutional settlement after the overthrow of Yanukovych and the further surfacing of the differences between east and west Ukraine.

    Look at this way: you seem to be more content with Crimean Ukranians and Tatars becoming a very small minority within the massive Russian Federation rather than Russians remaining within Ukraine and being a significant minority – more than one in six of the total – more than capable of standing up for their own interests. You consider that the optimal solution, hey?

    You’re not allowing the Ukrainian constitution to evolve to a better state to resolve the tensions that were probably seeded decades ago but instead consider it better that an act of force resolve this to the satisfaction of only one of the parties involved as soon as the differences result in a constitutional fracas.

  • I have no idea what may or may not be in Charles’ red box (I guess nothing consequential; I doubt he was basing his opinion on anything different to what he could read in the papers) but he certainly has no particular constitutional rôle other than standing around: he does not appoint ministers or have regular meetings with the PM or grant royal assent to Acts of Parliament and Orders in Council or open parliaments or receive ambassadors or do anything else that has a specific function within the political system by which the UK is governed.

  • Ian MacFadyen 25th May '14 - 1:55am

    Steve Coltman is missing the point, which is not whether Prince Charles should express the views he is alleged to have expressed.

    The point is that Prince Charles (if he is quoted correctly) is right. Putin is behaving just as Hitler did in Danzig and the Sudetenland in 1938-9. Our politicians should say so and not repeat the mistakes of the appeasers who let Hitler have his way and so made war inevitable. It’s hardly surprising an admirer of Putin like Farage should want Prince Charles silenced.

  • Dear Steve … “There is no knowing what sort of negotiations are currently underway between Britain and Russia. ” Absolutely right, this could be potentially damaging in ways that we the ordinary public do not know. This major Charles gaffe makes me wish all the more for a leap in the “succession” to William, who seems to demonstrate both a real diplomatic and popular connection ability . Bring on King William, that is where my vote would go!

  • peter tyzack 25th May '14 - 9:34am

    we still haven’t had anything definitive from Charles’ office to confirm or deny that he said what he is accused of saying, for all we know the whole thing might have been dreamed up by the Daily Mail, I mean, it’s not as if they are renowned for reliable and accurate reporting…

  • “[I] have always considered him an intelligent and thoughtful man”. Good to see you have a sense of humour.

  • I think Prince Charles said what millions of people are thinking that Putin is worse than Hitler. I’m sure his father will be turning in his grave knowing what his son is up to. He is supplying arms to Syria, where thousands of people are being killed injured and made homeless. He is supplying arms and manpower to the rebels in Ukraine, killing hundreds of innocent people. Now we learn that hundreds of people have been killed when that passenger aircraft was shot down by a missile supplied by Putin. This evil man will have to face his creator some day for all the crimes he has committed.

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