The Spectator

Letters | 14 April 2016

Plus: Counter subversion needed; old-age guilt; Fay Weldon does not apologise; teleportation, the Guardian, grannies

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In defence of Charles

Sir: As a former full-time member of the Prince of Wales’s office, and a part-time equerry for 20 years, I can identify with some of HRH’s interests, just like Geoffrey Wheatcroft (‘How to save the monarchy’, 9 April). In my case we share a passion for churches and other historic buildings. I also share some of Mr Wheatcroft’s frustrations — the chaos of the prince’s office has at times driven me to distraction. As the product of a Yorkshire grammar school, I have never considered myself part of any ‘Highgrove set’: the prince calls me ‘Matthew’, and I call him ‘Sir’.

But Mr Wheatcroft is wrong to assert that the prince’s passionate interest in diverse and sometimes controversial topics should somehow debar him from becoming our next king. What the prince manages to do time and time again is identify issues of enormous long-term importance and of great concern to many of our fellow citizens which the democratic process fails to address. The issues he has championed are often neglected by politicians. Deprived and demotivated young people (some 40 years before IDS); inner-city blight (he was there even before Michael Heseltine); the parlous state of much of our countryside; building closer links and understanding with the moderate mainstream in the Islamic world — the list goes on. And he has not just said ‘something must be done’ — he has got on, spoken out, and done something practical.

At a time when many politicians are seen as part of a remote metropolitan elite with an increasingly short-term outlook, I look forward to the reign of a king who has reminded us of the importance of many issues about which he has an enormous depth of knowledge. Who better to be consulted, to encourage or to warn?

I suppose I am of what Mr Wheatcroft calls ‘The Prince’s Party’, but I should conclude by saying that I have not sought Palace permission to write this letter, nor cleared it with anyone.

Matthew Butler MVO

Assistant private secretary to the Prince of Wales, 1993–1996; part-time equerry, 1996 to present

Subversive thought

Sir: Simon Jenkins’s ‘Letting terror win’ (9 April) was a depressing read. Governments, not just our own, focus on the costly and risky process of late-stage interdiction of acts of terror, and yet downplay the fact that terrorism has political origins and can be curtailed at a much earlier point before it is ‘weaponised’. How many terrorists did Masood Azhar recruit when he toured 32 British mosques in 1993, spreading his gospel of hatred, violence and rejection of the British state? And yet still, even today, the security service website states that it does not counter subversion. It takes real moral courage and fine judgment to tackle subversion, and very little to beguile the public into thinking that a macho deployment of the SAS, spooks and robocops is the effective response.

Jonathan Campbell-James


Old but not ashamed

Sir: There’s much sombre truth in Stewart Dakers’s ‘Live fast, die not too old’ (9 April). Two years his junior, I agree that growing old isn’t much fun. But I part company with him on the matter of guilt. He claims the elderly feel ashamed of slowing traffic, causing delays at checkouts, and monopolising waiting rooms and hospital beds. Not all of us do. Ageing brings a certain dogged indifference to the opinions of others; almost a resurgence of the notion that we’ve every right to act as we do, and that the rest of society can get stuffed. We should no more feel guilty at our awkwardness than a baby is guilty about wetting itself. It’s just another phase of life.

M.G. Sherlock

Colwyn Bay, North Wales

No apologies

Sir: While grateful to Rod Liddle for his affable reference to some asides of mine in a recent interview (‘Whoever invented referendums needs a kicking’, 9 April), I must correct his misapprehension that I’ve apologised for them — I haven’t.

Fay Weldon


A teleporting wife

Sir: So Sam Leith has a teleporting cat (Diary, 2 April)? My wife has similar powers. When visiting the supermarket she can move from aisle 1 to aisle 23 in the time it takes me to turn around and ask where the cakes are. I spend the next 40 minutes searching, only to be greeted by a fatigued ‘Oh there you are’ when she rematerialises.

Jim Corbett

Cork, Ireland

The Guardian’s business

Sir: Guardian Media Group has business operations in the UK, US and Australia. Contrary to Toby Young’s claims (Status anxiety, 9 April), the group’s assets are held entirely in these countries and are fully subject to prevailing tax laws and regulations. Further, all our investments are held in the UK and are subject to UK tax. As regards the disposal of our shareholding in Trader Media Group, an exemption — the Substantial Shareholding Exemption (SSE) — applies automatically, under UK tax law, to the sale of shares in trading companies. The application of SSE is mandatory; Guardian Media Group has no discretion in the matter.

David Pemsel

CEO, Guardian Media Group, London N1

Power struggles

Sir: Reading Dot Wordsworth’s anecdote about Thurber’s electro-neurotic mother (2 April), I was reminded of a childhood friend whose Scottish grandmother also fretted about the invisible pervasion of electricity. She kept a long bamboo cane with which she would turn off unplugged sockets, and also wore a pair of wellies in order to feel safe while doing the ironing. Thurber’s mother may have been unusual, but she was not unique!

Simon West