(I’ve rather severely edited this if one is interested in reading the whole thing.)
That stately galleon Sir Peter Tapsell MP, whose deck timbers were surely hewn from the same oak as Nelson’s Victory, has been known to say that “ad hominem attacks seldom work in politics”. In an age of satire and blatant venality, Sir Peter’s gentlemanly thesis can sound naive. There are so many disagreeable, disreputable, violently useless people around Westminster that a broadside sometimes seems not only good sport but also necessary.
…Last week, however, was a good one for the Tapsell doctrine. The Committee of Public Accounts (PAC), usually admired for non-partisan rigour, inserted its snout into the finances of the Royal Family. The committee, or more truthfully, two of its Labour members unfriendly to the monarchy, let rip. Their remarks were ad hominem – ad principem – and stinkingly partial.
The Prince of Wales was attacked by Alan Williams, a member of the committee who has been an MP since 1964 and served Harold Wilson in various frontbench roles. This balding former economics lecturer has led a life of little flamboyance. You may not know that he is Father of the House of Commons. On the Today programme on Wednesday it was certainly hard to believe that he is the chamber’s most senior backbencher, a supposed champion of parliamentary sagacity.
Not being bound by Sir Peter’s dictum, let me say that Mr Williams is a poor piece of work, sloping in gait, sour as a quince. On Wednesday, voice salted by envy, he accused the House of Windsor of “bleating” about its money. He was indignant that Prince Charles’s income was £36,000 a day, which was “massively more” than many people received in a whole year. The longer Mr Williams talked, the more damage he did to himself and the Commons. He sounded too bitter. What slim principle there might have been in his argument was overwhelmed by aggression. This sort of thing may be all right for political sketchwriters but one expects more restrained analysis from a Father of the House.
(For the record, no member of the Royal Family has publicly “bleated” – or even neighed – about the committee. The prince has a household of more than 90 to pay, gives heavily to charity and voluntarily coughs up income tax.)
Priceless! Simply priceless.
The Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall have been around since the 1300s. Mr Williams may seem to have been droning on for centuries but he is only 74. Is he really more wise than history? Government supervision of the duchies’ accounts, meanwhile, has long allowed us to be sure that the sovereign and heir are not being bribed by foreign agents or sinking into debt.
There is no historical evidence to suggest that the arrangement was introduced simply to allow Labour MPs to insist that next time a tired bungalow in the Scillies needs tarting up the work should be submitted to a public tendering process similar to that used for major capital projects such as hospitals, motorways and the replacement of aircraft carriers.
Let there be a sense of proportion, restraint. Let princes of the realm, particularly those who receive no income from the state, run their private affairs with model efficiency. And if Prince Charles wants to employ Camilla’s sister as a cushion fluffer let it be a concern solely for him, her, and maybe the soft-furnishings correspondent of Vogue, but not for two malevolent, self-defeating parliamentarians.
Oh man. Hilarious.