When the mascots play secret role in game

WHAT is the point of royalty?

Since we are no longer governed by a hereditary dictatorship, why on earth do we continue to surround their descendants with so much pomp and ceremony?

Why should we care about our posh little princes or what they get up to? And why, for heaven’s sake, do we have to fund their pampered lifestyles when there are doubts over funding hospitals and schools?

The late Merlyn Rees once explained to me a kind of road-to-Damascus vision he’d had on the subject.

Merlyn, home secretary in Jim Callaghan’s Labour government, had been brought up a socialist and anti-monarchist. It was on a trip to the USA that he changed his mind about the second part.

Standing before the John F Kennedy Memorial in Dallas, he was overwhelmed by emotion. Not his own emotion, but the outpourings of the Americans around him.

That all that fervour and adulation should be expended on, as he put it, “a mere politician” filled him with dismay.

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“If you’re going to put people on a pedestal,” he subsequently explained, “far better that they should be people who wield no real power.

“Just imagine if people revered Margaret Thatcher the way they do the Queen.”

That conversation took place shortly after Thatcher came to power – and Rees, of course, left it.

For 30 years since, I have generally shared his view.

But it only works if the Royals really wield no power. If they stick to their allotted role of national mascots and don’t try to take part in the game.

Which is why we should take very seriously the attempts of Prince Charles to wield power behind the scenes.

Of course Charles has a right to his opinions.

If he doesn’t like Lord Rogers’s plans for the redevelopment of Chelsea Barracks, he is entitled to say so.

Like any neighbour of a proposed new building, he can voice his objections, ask for a public inquiry, give his evidence.

What he should not have is the right to pull strings. To invite his fellow princes in the Qatari royal family, who were partly funding the scheme, to tea at Clarence House and get them to scrap the plans.

And then, crucially, to claim a royal privilege of secrecy over ever having got involved.

He likes to get involved, does Charles.

Some of his views – on farming methods, for example, or “American-style compensation culture” – I broadly share.

On architecture, I find his preference for Quality Street-tin “tradition” not merely bizarre, but offensive.

But whether I (or anyone else) agree with him is not the point.

The point is his 40-year habit of wielding influence by letter, email and tea-party – and expecting everyone to pretend he didn’t.

So I welcome the ruling by a High Court judge that Charles brought “unexpected and unwelcome” pressure to bear, causing the �3billion Chelsea housing project to be “effectively derailed”.

Charles, of course, doesn’t welcome it at all. He considers that the public ruling breaches his privacy.

As if princes had a right to more privacy than the rest of us. Especially when he wants to get things done. Or stopped.

We now know that ministers in successive governments, back to Merlyn Rees’s time and beyond, have been familiar with the “black spiders” of Charles’s handwriting as he attempted to sway decisions on everything from hunting to foreign relations.

They weren’t supposed to tell us about it because of a curious British “convention” that the Royal Family should not be seen to interfere in politics.

A convention that is as stupid as it is typically British.

If they shouldn’t be SEEN to do it, they shouldn’t do it.

If they can’t play by the rules, why should we keep them in the game at all?

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GOOD job we had a fancy foreign coach to show our lads how to play, then, eh?

When I wrote, just before the World Cup kicked off, about our national over-optimism, I didn’t know just how far over the top our optimism was.

Now Fabio wants to keep his job. Well, at �6million a year, wouldn’t you?

It seems reasonable compensation for the damage done to his previously high reputation.

What of the damage to the reputations of John Terry, Steven Gerrard and the rest of the supposed “golden generation”?

I’m sure I’m not the only fan who’d be happy never to see any of them in an England shirt again.

Wayne Rooney was supposed to have been one of the stars of the tournament, up there with Messi and Kaka. In the event he was outshone by… well, nearly everyone, really.

Of course the players were tired after a long Premier League season.

So how come Carlos Tevez and Dirk Kuyt look as fresh and lively for Argentina and Holland as they did all season for Man City and Liverpool?

And how come England’s finest seemed to forget all they ever knew about the basics of defending? Or attacking, come to that.

I could go on. But you’ve probably already read more than you want about the worst England performance ever at a major tournament (and yes, I do remember Graham Taylor).

Now at least we can sit back and enjoy the festival of football without the anxiety that always goes with England’s involvement.

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