September 15, 1997 in Nation/World

Charles Leads Charge For Royal Reform Papers Say Prince Wants More Public Access To Family, Fewer Elite Functions

Ray Moseley Chicago Tribune
 

Prince Charles is leading a move by the royal family to reform itself in the wake of widespread criticism about its response to the death of the Princess of Wales, British newspapers reported Sunday.

They said Charles has told his advisers he wants greater public accessibility to the royal family, a more open recruitment policy for staffers who serve the royal household and fewer elite functions behind the closed doors of Buckingham Palace.

The newspapers also said changes to the Civil List, the list of royal family members entitled to state support, are under consideration. Queen Elizabeth II, responding to public pressures, reduced the Civil List several years ago to include just herself; her husband, Prince Philip; and Queen Elizabeth, the queen mother.

But the royal family still costs taxpayers about $80 million a year, including the queen’s travel allowance.

Another proposal being debated, according to The Independent on Sunday, is an alteration of the right of succession to the throne to give women equal claim with men. A law that prevents non-Anglicans from marrying into the royal family also may be scrapped, it said.

The reports, appearing in all major newspapers, suggested the royal family - or at least some of its members - has grasped the need to move quickly to regain public favor. The proposals also may indicate the family is anxious to get better press before publication this week in the United States of Kitty Kelley’s highly anticipated book on the House of Windsor, which reportedly includes tales of illegitimate children, homosexuality and treatment for drug addiction.

The book is not being published in Britain because the country has much tougher libel laws that could open Kelley to being sued.

The Sunday Times, in one of the most detailed reports of the royal family’s plan to reform itself, credited Charles with taking the lead. It said he believes the family must conduct extensive research to learn exactly what the public wants from its monarchy and has asked close advisers to find a method of accurately gauging public opinion.

The newspaper said Charles has consulted the queen over the moves.

The queen, Charles and other family members came under sustained criticism after Diana’s death on Aug. 31 in a Paris car crash because of their low-key response and failure to lead the national mourning.

The family belatedly changed course, but a poll published in The Sunday Times appeared to confirm the damage done to the family by its behavior. The poll showed 72 percent of Britons think the queen is remote and out of touch, 23 percent want her to abdicate now and 30 percent would like her to leave the throne when she reaches age 75 in 2001.

Sixty percent said they want Prince William, 15, to succeed her, while only 31 percent favored Charles. Fifty-eight percent said the monarchy would not exist in its current form in 30 years’ time.

Another poll published by The Observer found eight out of 10 people thinking the royal family has lost touch with the public and 53 percent preferring William as the next monarch to 38 percent for Charles.

The Sunday Times said Charles is moving his private office from St. James’ Palace to Buckingham Palace and plans to merge the two press offices to coordinate royal affairs more effectively.

It also said he would restructure his life so he can spend most school holidays with William and Prince Harry, who turns 13 today. Harry will accompany his father to Africa next month during a school break, the newspaper said.

The Independent’s political editor, Stephen Castle, credited Prime Minister Tony Blair with being the engine of change in the royal family. He noted that Charles has cultivated a close relationship with Blair, who diplomatically nudged the royal family to respond more sympathetically to Diana’s death in the days leading up to her funeral.

“What remains in doubt is the extent of the change coming,” Castle wrote.

He said Britain has retained the trappings of an essentially Victorian monarchy, and “Mr. Blair’s task, 100 years on, is to demystify and scale down that inheritance.”

But Conservative leader William Hague launched a strong attack on the government’s handling of Diana’s death, saying it had leaked confidential advice to the royal family in such a way as to put the government in a good light and the family in a bad one.

“That is shabby politics and bad government,” he said.

The prime minister’s office said the accusation is despicable.

Even before Diana’s death, Charles was involved in a move to consider how the royal family could update itself. The Way Ahead group, consisting of the royal family and palace senior advisers, meets twice a year to consider the future of the monarchy, and Charles has played a leading role in that.

“In terms of symbols and the day-to-day running of the palaces, everything is said to be up for grabs,” Castle reported. But he said even the reformers are unsure precisely what the public wants.

The Sunday Telegraph said Blair is ready to back the scrapping of the Civil List, but both Buckingham Palace and Blair’s office denied that. The newspaper said Charles believes the support of Blair generally would overcome opposition from the queen and conservative-minded courtiers.

The Telegraph said Blair is concerned that debate on reform of the monarchy would not give an opening to those in his Labor Party who would like to abolish the institution and make Britain a republic.


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