PRINCE Charles’s work ethic is admirable. Last year he totted up 521 engagements on behalf of the royal family, narrowly beating his sister Princess Anne, whose quiet dedication to her duties has long been known.
But his presence this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, where he gave a keynote address to launch the Sustainable Market Council, was a step too far.
‘Do we want to go down in history as the people who didn’t do anything to bring the world back from the brink?’ he asked. ‘Global warming, climate change and the devastating loss of biodiversity are the greatest threats humanity has ever faced.’
Didn’t he undermine his own message before he had even reached the lectern given that he’d flown to the Swiss Alps by private jet at significant cost to the planet? What would Meghan Markle say about those carbon emissions? Aware of the hypocrisy, his staff attempted to lessen his embarrassment by explaining he had used an electric Jaguar to make the 80-mile journey from St Gallen airport to Davos instead of flying by gas-guzzling helicopter. In climatespeak, he had magnanimously ‘offset’ his travel. Big deal.
The prince is not the first to fall into this trap. Davos always presents this problem for its elite attendees. No matter how much anyone argues that this meeting of minds in the Swiss Alps produces answers and solutions to various issues, it is intrinsically linked with a fat-cat culture of greed and excess. This year the walls may have been painted with seaweed and the carpets made out of end-of-life fishing nets, but this is just window-dressing to support the theme of Davos 2020 – climate change – and to make its many political guests feel better about themselves.
Why was Prince Charles there at all? Yes, he spoke passionately about time being precious, and used his address to suggest that new eco-taxes, greener fuels and hydrogen-powered planes should all be in place by 2030. But the content of his speech was less worrisome than was his presence per se.
It was yet another example of him using his role in a political context, something he has been accused of many times over the last 50 years. When he turned 70 in 2018 he said: ‘I do realise that it is a separate exercise being sovereign,’ and went on to acknowledge he will not be able to speak out as king as he has done as heir to the throne.
Yet as time marches on, and his proximity to the crown increases, many feel he has already gone far too far too many times to be seen as the politically neutral figure he will need to be before long. His mother never encountered this problem, having taken the throne in her 20s. Charles has already blotted his copybook in this regard. We all know what he thinks about so many different issues. In that sense, he has already let in too much daylight upon the magic.
For anyone still in doubt as to whether his treading of the Davos boards after other keynote speakers such as President Trump was political, one need only think of his actions post-speech. His staged photo opportunity with climate-change poster girl Greta Thunberg was unashamedly shared on the Clarence House Instagram page like some sort of badge of honour (did she tick him off over the private jet, I wonder?) This is far too political for a man who promised to meddle less.
In the last week, we have been reminded that the Queen, when necessary, will drive a hard bargain. Isn’t it high time she had a word with Prince Charles about remaining above the political fray at all times?