Coffee House

Why Britain needs Prince Charles

18 November 2013

3:48 PM

18 November 2013

3:48 PM

This week’s issue of Country Life magazine has been guest-edited by the Prince of Wales. As long term perspectives disappear from national debate, we should all be grateful for his presence in public life, says Ben Goldsmith.

It is hard to name an area of modern life which has not been overcome by short-term considerations. Companies sacrifice long-term growth for their quarterly financial reports, politicians are blind beyond the next election, and the attention span of rolling news channels is shorter than ever. In cricket, the deep satisfaction of a five-day Test Match is threatened by one day or even shorter match formats. Long termism speaks with a quiet voice; a voice that has been all but obliterated.

The Prince of Wales stands almost alone at the top tier of British public life in his insistence on the issues which will decide whether our grandchildren remember us with fondness or contempt. What matters in fifty years matters this year: the role of science in human life; the future of unemployed young people; the impact of architecture on our wellbeing; the wilful disregard for our planetary resource base; and the protection of a countryside which has inspired this nation for centuries.

To speak wisely and truthfully on such issues requires a disinterest that is becoming structurally impossible in our society. Politicians compete for votes, companies for profits, charities for funding, and celebrities for popularity. The Prince’s willingness to endure personal attacks speaks of his freedom to serve more critical outcomes than these.


In his 65th year, the country would do well to humble itself before its Prince’s quiet, brilliant track record. He made his first environmental speech in 1968 – two years before Friends of the Earth was established in this country and 20 before Margaret Thatcher put climate change on the global policy map. Nearly 40 years later – at the height of the financial crisis – he convened a G20 meeting on deforestation which resulted in $6bn worth of multilateral commitments, helping to embed an 80% reduction of deforestation in the Amazon. To address long-term issues requires a long-term commitment – a valuable lesson for the rest of us.

Some environmentalists are accused of having a disregard for humanity. But human wellbeing is at the core of Prince Charles’s concern. He set up the Prince’s Trust in 1976 using money saved from his Navy pension and it has since helped 750,000 young people – of whom three quarters have moved into work, education or training. As youth unemployment again climbs the political agenda, here is an organization with a success rate that most Big Society-type social enterprises can only dream of. The Trust is completely unstuffy and meets young people where they are, exemplified by the 1980s Rock Galas and the ongoing Party in the Park concerts.

The Prince’s humanitarian efforts also seek to connect people with the natural and built environment. His architectural interventions are sometimes called regressive. But a large part of his 1984 speech to the Royal Institute of British Architects – in which he famously called the National Gallery’s Sainsbury Wing a ‘carbuncle’ – was given over to the then-unknown cause of disabled access. In an earlier private lunch, he challenged planners and architects to confront the issue of the fire regulations which were preventing disabled people from moving through buildings. This concern is now a given; then, he championed it almost alone. The ongoing thrust of his speech was not the pursuit of aesthetics for their own sake but of community architecture which consults with future  inhabitants, showing ‘ordinary people that their views are worth having’. Here we see the true nature of royalty – not imposition but service.

My own area of business and investment is prey to the greatest and potentially most deadly disconnect between short-term motivation and future impact. Yet here too the Prince’s long-term view is starting to have an impact.

Since its foundation in 1994, his Business Sustainability Programme at Cambridge University has been attended by members of over 1000 organizations in over 70 countries. The effect of these people multiplied across their organizations represents global impact. Every three years since 2004 a similar programme has been launched – for the insurance industry, itself more exposed to extreme weather than any other; for banks to help stop deforestation and unlock capital for clean energy projects; for investors to tackle the profound problem of investment short-termism; and for the accountants, who will, in the Prince’s words, ‘save the world’.

As he put it, we are living off the Earth’s natural capital rather than the income derived from that capital and there is no global CFO to keep us in check. Having survived the banking crisis, we sit by and watch while the biggest bank of all – nature itself – heads towards catastrophe.

It was the English theorist Thomas Hobbes who focused on monarchy as the institution most free from self-interest and thereby best able to serve the long-term interest of a nation. ‘Hell is truth seen too late,’ he wrote. The Prince of Wales has repeatedly articulated truths in time for us to act on them. If he was an investor, his foresight would have made him a legend. As it is, he has asked for nothing back. I’m a massive fan.

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Show comments
  • Richard Calhoun

    Tosh, the man’s an unmitigated disaster, constantly halting progress behind the scenes, using his privilege undemocratically
    Viva La Republique

    • Colonel Mustard

      Move to France then you prat.

      • Richard Calhoun

        et tu monsieur

  • bettytoo2

    We all know why ben goldsmith wants prince charles in power because hes part of the bilderbergs and the new world order plan

  • john

    We don’t need a monarch or a monarch’s family!
    Britain is a 1000 years into democracy and maintaining a medieval pantomime is an insult to the 63 million Brits who don’t have Windsor genes. Charles has lived a life of self-indulgence, unearned power and idle wealth – he is the opposite of what a role model should be.
    I hope the Scots do the bunk and the silly myth that the royals keep the UK together will finally be nailed.

    • Colonel Mustard

      I disagree and you are in a minority 17% to 66% so don’t come here braying about what insults 63 million Brits as though you speak for all of them. If you want to scapegoat an idle waster then scapegoat Baroness Ashton or any one of the other unelected EU apparatchiks.

      • john

        You have an unhealthy fetish for Lady A. She’s of no relevance – move on!

        • Colonel Mustard

          Well if healthy contempt is unhealthy fetish then yes. But she is not of no relevance. She is the precise model for the new kind of unelected, unaccountable Euro aristocracy that would rise into the vacuum of the Monarchy. She is a reminder of the dreary, bureaucratic non-entities that would rule over us – look at the Euro presidents. Give me the mediaeval pantomime and the glorious flaws and fables of our Royal Family any day.

          • john

            I think your arguments are both irrational and blinkered. Lady (I despise titles but you presumably like them) Ashton has achieved her elevation even while Mrs Q and Prince Chuck have been around so she is a product of a monarchical system not a republican one. In my world there would be no titles and no monarch.
            Why are you so abusive to your fellow British and European citizens? Unless you are a member of the Windsor family or holder of a fancy title, they are your fellow commoners and far more in line with your interests than any Windsor can ever be..

  • The Laughing Cavalier

    Of course we need him, he’s the national fruitcake.

  • PhillipGeorge(c)2013

    If the Prince realized CO2 helps plants grow faster with better Water Use Efficiency and realized Jesus Christ is the basis of the British Throne – I’d be right behind him.

    PhillipGeorge(c)2013 – Her Majesty’s last surviving subject, Melbourne, Australia

    [You don’t know what you had till it’s gone is a song and a truism of Future Shock]

  • Peter Stroud

    Charles has many good attributes. However, his almost fanatical association with the catastrophic man made global warming hypothesis is worrying. He obviously lacks scientific skills: so accepts the politicised science of the UN IPCC as gospel. Yet he and his hangers on fly around the world, with gay abandon, leaving an enormous Carbon footprint in their wake. He needs to be encouraged to see the other side. To read the views of sceptical scientists

  • London Calling

    I’m a huge fan of Prince Charles……… nonsense chap who says what he thinks, but thinks about what he says……….:O

  • judyk113

    Yet another “placed” piece of Prince Charles puffery. Absurd. These articles telling us how wonderful and beloved he is have been appearing in abundance, with suitably brushed up photos and adoring headlines, in every bit of press his PR team can get them into. No, PR team, and no, ever vain and hopeful Prince Charles. We could do very well without you, and especially your green ink letters attempting to poke your nose into the decision making processes of elected politicians. We could do very well without your cranky ideas and promotion of absurdities such as homeopathic medicine. The very best thing you could do for us, which really would finally endear you to the nation, would be to announce your intention to give up your right of succession to your son Prince William, who, like his grandmother, knows how to keep his mouth shut for all but inoffensive pleasantries and uncontroversial good thoughts. And may Her Majesty live in good health to be 120. Amen.

    • Makroon

      Indeed. I smell an abdication coming up.
      Constitutional Monarchy is a delicate thing, well judged by HM the queen, but disregarded by the gobby, George III wannabe.
      People might start asking why we are to be saddled in perpetuity, with the rum mono-dynasty of the Windsors – and it doesn’t really bear much thinking about.

      • dalai guevara

        Oh look, the banksters and anti-ethics brigade get a bashing only last week, now and all of a sudden the Monarchy is the problem. We all can see right through that one.
        But guess what – the EU will follow through what the Prince has started. You evidently heard that here first.

      • Colonel Mustard

        That’s funny, I smell a load of cobblers from quasi-republicans and ill-informed pundits who conflate personality with position.

        According to that veritable Sage and Seer of Speccie-Land Senator Lindsay we are about to be saddled in perpetuity with the rum mono-dynasty of Labour government, all as mad as hatters and far barmier than HRH Prince Charles is or ever could be. That doesn’t bear thinking about. The country in the hands of a gang of smug, triumphalist, self-hating commies and grievance monkeys of the gobby, Lenin-wannabe ilk.

  • chan chan

    Yes, I agree. We really need a King who believes the war in Syria was caused by so-called man-made global warming.

  • In2minds

    Chuck is nuts, Britain does not need him

  • john

    Another ludicrous puff piece about this doofus? Charles is a national embarrassment and only of value to suck ups in the media as a source of easy articles. If he were to disappear without trace (wonderful idea) the country would be better off and might actually democratically elect a real Head of State instead of an expensive hood ornamant.

    • Colonel Mustard

      Yeah, a democratically “appointed” Head of State like Baroness Ashton no doubt complete with the requisite lefty baggage. Give me HRH Prince Charles any time. Not perfect by any means but preferable.

      • john

        Appointed isn’t democratic. I’d be happy if the lovely Ashton ran for our first democratically elected Head of State (Mr Charles Windsor also). I doubt either would be elected but you never know.

        • Colonel Mustard

          Er, that was my point. You think Labour dynasty wonks appointed by the Unions and parachuted into safe seats are really “elected”?

          • john

            You’re being pointlessly pedantic. Let’s elect our leaders.

            • Colonel Mustard

              Not really. I’m pointing out the inevitable reality of the type of democracy we have and what would happen if we extended that to “electing” our Head of State. The very fact that the Monarch is not elected provides some safe distance and continuity away from the banal and faddish behaviours of an overwhelmingly stupid and fickle electorate and those influential forces that pursue agendas through emotive, near hysterical hyperbole.

  • Swanky

    ‘heads towards catastrophe’:
    This is delusional. CAGW has been debunked, and basically it was always a scam from start to finish — Climategate being only one aspect of the post-normal-science gravy-train Leftist Trojan horse that is ‘man-made climate change’.

  • David Thompson

    lovely to see another goldsmith dna contribution- well commented on- a great bloke and we need him at Bucks Palace ASAP- so our beloved Queenie please kindly step down i 2014- we need an excuse for a coronation party!

  • arnoldo87

    When the average person is faced with a choice between doing the right thing environmentally or selecting another option that is more convenient, he is wrestling with a choice between harm to himself or harm to his descendants.
    We have all faced this choice and maybe sometimes we have selected the easier of the two options, but with a guilty conscience, because we knew what the morally correct decision was, and we funked it.
    What I don’t want to hear is someone pontificating on the subject who has never once had to similarly agonise. Does HRH separate the cardboard from the plastic every week like the rest of us, or does his toothpaste squeezer do it?

  • Swiss Bob

    Funny, because he doesn’t seemed too concerned about saving the country
    in terms of its landscape, culture or people.

  • Swiss Bob

    Speccie, your moderation has gone bananas.

  • David Lindsay

    He has been so much happier since he married Audrey Roberts, the widow of Margaret Thatcher’s father.