29 June 2014
Last updated at 07:21
Former ministers have revealed Prince Charles’s interest in grammar schools and complementary medicine
The Prince of Wales tried to persuade Tony Blair’s government to expand grammar schools, former education secretary David Blunkett has said.
In a BBC Radio 4 documentary examining the constitutional role of the prince, Mr Blunkett said Prince Charles “didn’t like” it when his request was refused.
He discussed complementary medicine and climate with other Labour ministers.
Meanwhile, former prime minister Sir John Major revealed he changed policies after discussing them with the Queen.
Mr Blunkett is one of three former cabinet ministers interviewed for the documentary, The Royal Activist.
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If you are waiting to be the king of the United Kingdom… you genuinely have to engage with something or you’d go spare”
Recalling his conversations, Mr Blunkett, who was education secretary for four years between 1997 and 2001, said: “I would explain that our policy was not to expand grammar schools, and he didn’t like that.
“He was very keen that we should go back to a different era where youngsters had what he would have seen as the opportunity to escape from their background, whereas I wanted to change their background.”
“I can see constitutionally that there’s an argument that the heir to the throne should not get involved in controversy; the honest truth is I didn’t mind,” added Mr Blunkett.
“If you are waiting to be the king of the United Kingdom, and you’ve waited a very long time, you genuinely have to engage with something or you’d go spare.”
But Graham Smith, chief executive of the group Republic which campaigns for the abolition of the monarchy, said it was wrong for any member of the Royal Family to try to shape the decisions of the elected.
“The deal with the monarchy is that the royals stay out of politics completely and these revelations just kind of prove what we’ve been saying all along which is that they are involving themselves, influencing public policy and that is completely unacceptable in a democratic society,” Mr Smith said.
Mr Blunkett said he did not mind Prince Charles commenting on schools policy
Former environment minister Michael Meacher recalled that he and the Prince “would consort together quietly” to affect policy on climate change and genetically modified crops.
He said they worked together “to try and ensure that we increased our influence within government”.
“I knew that he largely agreed with me and he knew that I largely agreed with him,” said Mr Meacher. “We were together in trying to persuade Tony Blair to change course.”
Asked if there might be a constitutional problem in the Prince taking a political opinion, Mr Meacher replied: “Well, over GM I suppose you could well say that. Maybe he was pushing it a bit. I was delighted, of course.”
Prince Charles has been a well-known supporter of complementary medicine. According to another former Labour cabinet minister, Peter Hain, it was a topic they shared an interest in.
“He had been constantly frustrated at his inability to persuade any health ministers anywhere that that was a good idea, and so he, as he once described it to me, found me unique from this point of view, in being somebody that actually agreed with him on this, and might want to deliver it.”
Sir John Major said it would have been “very foolish” not to be influenced by the Queen
Mr Hain added: “When I was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in 2005-7, he was delighted when I told him that since I was running the place I could more or less do what I wanted to do.
“I was able to introduce a trial for complementary medicine on the NHS, and it had spectacularly good results, that people’s well-being and health was vastly improved.
“And when he learnt about this he was really enthusiastic and tried to persuade the Welsh government to do the same thing and the government in Whitehall to do the same thing for England, but not successfully,” added Mr Hain.
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I can recall occasions where the Queen in discussion put a gloss upon something that made one think and reflect upon whether it was being done in the right fashion”
Sir John Major
The Prince’s policy interventions are also supported by Sir John Major.
The former prime minister said: “I think it is encouraging that the Prince of Wales is entirely free from his unique perspective to write to ministers or the prime minister in a way that is invariably intended to be helpful, and I think to cut that off, or to make sure those letters are much more bland than they otherwise might be, would be a loss.”
Sir John also revealed that he occasionally changed policy as a result of discussions with the Queen – although he would not be drawn on the specific times this took place.
Asked if he remembered being influenced by the Queen, Sir John said : “I think every prime minister can think that, and can think of occasions where that happened…
“But the answer is yes of course. It would be very foolish indeed not to be influenced.”
“I can recall occasions where the Queen in discussion put a gloss upon something that made one think and reflect upon whether it was being done in the right fashion at the right time, or perhaps reflect upon what the impact of it would be,” Sir John said.
The Royal Activist is broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 13:30 BST on Sunday, 29 June.