TB and Prince Charles in today’s Guardian – some context
Posted on 2 July 2011 | 6:07am
It must say something for the media’s belief in the public’s insatiable diet for Royal stories that for two volumes running, The Guardian has led its serialisation of my diaries on Royal stories.
With volume 2, Power and the People, it was the arrangements for Princess Diana’s funeral, and the vexed issue of whether the two young Princes would walk behind their mother’s coffin with their father and Charles Spencer. Today, for volume 3, Power and Responsibility, the main focus is on relations between TB and Prince Charles.
Of course with the memory of the marriage of Kate and William fresh in people’s minds, the focus on matters Royal was perhaps inevitable.
I always get irritated when authors allow bits of their books to be published, as a way of drawing attention to them, and then say ‘people really need to read the whole book to get the full picture.’
But, well … you know the rest.*
The strength of a diary, I believe, is the rawness and the immediacy, and the lack of hindsight. All the entries quoted by The Guardian are in there. But what a serialisation can’t do, of course, is provide context.
The big picture context is that so much else was going on. This is a volume that starts amid the Kosovo conflict and ends on September 11. In between there was a general election, (complete with JP punch), a new Millennium (complete with Dome, London Eye and lots besides that went wrong,) a new London Mayor, a Downing St baby, a new US President, scandals and resignations, floods and Foot and Mouth Disease, ups and downs in Northern Ireland, ups and downs in Europe, ups and downs with colleagues, downs and downs with the Women’s Institute, and lots of steady progress on delivery on the main policy fronts.
It would be pretty hard for a newspaper to reflect all of that if a few thousand words, I accept. But if I look at the index, and the page on which Prince Charles features, he has fewer mentions throughout the book than fellow names beginning with C as varied as Jacques Chirac, General Wes Clark, Charles Clarke, Bill Clinton and broadcaster Michael Cockerell. Relatively, he is a small part of a very large book.
The other context of course is one of time. Prince Charles at the time (this covers 99-01) had a media team which I did believe was seeking to create a very distinct profile, and part of that was about showing differences of opinion about government policy.
TB always valued their discussions, and contrary to some of the online commentary this morning he did not come back and deliver blow by blow accounts to his staff. Nor did he show us the private correspondence between them. But often the issues in them were being put into the public domain, and I was having to talk to him about how we handled that. Hunting was perhaps the most obvious issue. But China, GM food, agriculture and our handling of FMD were others where differences of view were made very public and my job was to handle the fall-out. It is often said ‘the Royals can’t answer back.’ But in fact in these situations it is the politicians who have to stay quiet and their spokesmen who must minimise any differences.
At the time Prince Charles had media advice from Mark Bolland and as I say in The Guardian today, I felt that just as Charlie Whelan was sometimes damaging to GB’s interests, so was Bolland in relation to the Prince of Wales.
— There is one other line running from the serialisation which I want to clarify … TB is quoted as saying that for the Israelis to hand Jerusalem to the Palestinians would be like us handing Westminster to Germany. This time the lack of context is my fault. I should have made clear that he was saying to his team, me included, that this was how many Israelis viewed the issue, as a way of emphasising why it was so fraught. It was their analogy, not his.
* Mitigating factor to my ‘you need to read the whole book’ argument. Though I have allowed The Guardian to run two extracts (more on Monday), I am not doing the usual media rounds on this one, so don’t expect to see me popping up left right and centre as I have done with other books. It is also purely by coincidence that I am on Irish TV tonight, doing a long arranged interview with Miriam O’Callaghan on RTE. I’m just hoping it doesn’t clash with the boxing (and not because I’m worried about viewing figures, but because I want to watch the fight!)