As king Charles III begins his reign as the new British monarch, the focus is on how he can use his position as head of state to promote causes he’s been passionate about for decades – the environment and climate change, in particular, as well as others philanthropic efforts.
Throughout her 70 years on the throne and until her death on Thursday as monarch, Queen Elizabeth II sought to maintain strict political neutrality, going so far as not to vote.
And while Charles has been careful not to tread too publicly, he has a history of wading into politics, something some British officials have expressed concern he might be more willing to do as king.
Climate change has long been a priority for Charles
Nowhere was Charles more outspoken than the threat posed by climate change. Last year, speaking at the opening ceremony of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, he warned that the time to tackle climate change had “literally run out”.
In order to tackle the problem, he said, “we have to put ourselves on what you might call a warlike attitude.”
For Charles, the passion for the environment dates back decades. In an interview published on the Royal Family’s website in 2020, he recalled how, as a teenager, he began to feel increasingly alarmed at “the destruction of everything… all that kind of white heat of progress and technology to the exclusion of nature and our environment, and also this total will to overcome nature and suppress everything that concerns it.
“I seem to remember that it bothered me a lot,” he said.
Charles is said to have been quick to promote his views on the environment, among other topics, in private letters to government ministers dubbed “black spider notes”, an apparent reference to his scribbled handwriting. The letters covered everything from the UK’s involvement in the Iraq war to the availability of alternative herbal medicine.
In the 1980s, Charles, then Prince of Wales, also came up against the ‘Iron Lady’ herself – former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher – who reportedly pushed back on his efforts to influence his government’s policies on of urban renewal.
Thatcher pushed back on her efforts to get him to meet with the leaders of a community program that Charles helped found. Author Howard Hodgson, writing in his biography Charles – The man who will be king, said Thatcher “felt it would obviously provide his opponents with the valuable point that the Prince of Wales, although supposed to be politically neutral, was in fact opposed to Thatcher and his indifferent policies”, according to Express.
He also spoke out on immigration policy
Earlier this year, Charles was seen as making thinly veiled criticism of a controversial new immigration policy by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government which sends all asylum seekers to Rwanda for processing. In his Easter message in April, Charles spoke of the “inexpressible tragedy” of those who have been “forced to flee their country and seek refuge far from home”, saying they “need a welcome, a rest and kindness.” Privately, he reportedly described the policy as “appalling”.
An unnamed senior Cabinet official quoted by The Sunday Times said: “Prince Charles is an adornment for our public life, but it will cease to be charming if he tries to behave in the same way when he is king. It will cause serious constitutional problems.”
In response to the controversy, the prince’s representatives issued a statement reiterating that as monarch Charles would remain “politically neutral”.
One cause that Charles could perhaps promote without straying too far from neutrality is the Prince’s Trust, which he founded in 1976. According to vanity loungethe trust is said to have pioneered the concept of microloans – small loans that have been used to help more than 50,000 disadvantaged young people start their own businesses.
His actions will be closely watched
Whichever direction he goes, the King’s actions will be closely watched and are almost guaranteed to invite comparisons to the record set by Queen Elizabeth. Following the asylum policy mess earlier this year, Michael Cole, a former royal correspondent for the BBC, said in an interview that as king Charles will have to be ‘careful’ when expressing political views .
“[The] Queen was never wrong that way,” he said.
“He has to be very careful and maybe he should have around him,” Cole said, “people who actually see these tiger traps and make sure he walks around them and not directly into them.”
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