Prince Charles may have lost Richard Rogers a job, but that's no reason to abolish the monarchy

Charles is not head of state, and nobody is obliged to take any notice of what he says. Nor does anybody often do so

The scuppering of Richard Rogers' plans for the redevelopment of the old Chelsea Barracks site in west London - achieved "single-handedly" (says Rogers) by the Prince of Wales - has reignited the smouldering debate between republicans and royalists.

On the one hand, there are Rogers and his supporters (most notably Roy Hattersley) accusing the prince of an "unconstitutional" intervention in the democratic planning process; on the other, there are the traditionalists represented by the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph who portray the prince as a standard-bearer for ordinary people against "arrogant", "elitist", "champagne socialists" such as the world-famous, award-winning architect.

Lord Rogers is understandably furious. He was confident that after years of hard work on the Chelsea housing project, his plans were finally about to be approved by Westminster council when the owners of the site, the Qatari royal family, suddenly told him he had got the sack and that they were going to find another architect. Worse than that, they were going to seek the help of The Prince's Foundation for the Built Environment, which supports traditional architecture against the kind of modernist designs for which Rogers is famous; and they had apparently taken these decisions in direct response to a letter from Prince Charles to a fellow prince, the Qatari prime minister and member of the emirate's royal family, complaining that the steel-and-glass towers proposed by Rogers would be "unsuitable" in such close proximity to Sir Christopher Wren's Royal Hospital.

Since Rogers had in the past lost a couple of other major architectural commissions in London following objections by the prince, he regarded this as the last straw and called for a public inquiry into the constitutional propriety of the prince's interventions not only in architecture but in all the other areas that interest him, such as the environment and medicine. This is clearly an initiative designed to muzzle Prince Charles permanently on the grounds that it is unconstitutional for the heir to the throne to express a view on anything at all. Does Prince Charles really deserve such a cruel punishment?

Lord Hattersley seems to think so. Writing in yesterday's Guardian, he said it was "outside the bounds of royal propriety" for the prince to interfere in the life of the country when, despite being "a middle-aged man of no particular merit", he enjoyed "a special status in society" on account of his blood and birth. Hattersley has persuaded himself that the prince's behaviour is unconstitutional so that "republicans like me [may] rejoice at the damage he does to the idea of monarchy". And he clearly wasn't thinking about Nicolas Sarkozy when he said that "no one can imagine an elected head of state interfering capriciously and arbitrarily in a quasi-judicial planning decision"; for the French president has this week reportedly fired a departmental prefect for failing to carry out the wishes of his parents-in-law and sort out the sewage arrangements at their villa at Cap Nègre in the south of France - an act as capricious and arbitrary as one could hope for.

Prince Charles can be incredibly irritating, and one can't blame Rogers for hating him; but it is hard to see what is unconstitutional about him expressing opinions, however misguided, on non-political matters. It would be unacceptable if he were already head of state, but he isn't; and nobody is obliged to take any notice of what he says. Nor does anybody often do so. Anyone is entitled to fire their architect; and while it was incredibly bad luck on Rogers if his employers in this case turned out to be people whose overriding belief is in solidarity among princes, it was an extremely unusual circumstance. In any case, it is not a good basis on which to campaign for the abolition of the monarchy.

It is hardly surprising that "elderly" people, among whom I include myself, are unimpressed by "use by" dates on their food. These didn't exist when we were young, and we found it perfectly satisfactory to judge whether or not food was edible by its appearance or smell. Now, however, this is not thought good enough. The Food Standards Agency says that we risk being poisoned because of our cavalier attitude to these printed warnings. "You can't smell salmonella, E coli and listeria," says Andrew Wadge, chief scientist of the FSA.

Maybe not, but the government also tells us that we throw away many millions of tonnes of edible food each year because we are unnecessarily frightened by the labels - especially those saying "best before" that do not imply any danger to health. So, as usual, government advice is both contradictory and unnerving. I think that we oldies deserve commendation for remaining calm and carefree in the face of it and eating whatever looks and smells all right. The number of people dying from listeriosis may have doubled between 2000 and 2007, but according to the FSA the 2007 figure was still only 162. I expect that worry killed many more.

This week Alexander watched the candidates for Speaker making their public appeals for support: "I might have favoured Ann Widdecombe were it not for the hideous squawk she would be bound to make with the word 'Order'." He read Sebastian Haffner's life of Churchill: "Brilliant - and wonderfully short."


Alexander Chancellor

The GuardianTramp

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