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Good King Charles

24 Mar 2021 | OP ED Watch

One day the Prince of Wales may finally inherit the throne his mother has occupied since Truman and Mackenzie King and Churchill were in office, or possibly Jehoshaphat. But HRH has not been idle in the meantime. In addition to the usual royal duty of sponsoring a host of mainstream charitable activities big and small, Prince Charles has had his own eccentric and often prophetic preoccupations, from fighting ugly architecture to engaging in organic farming. And also, alas, promoting climate alarmism, where the man who stands to be the 35th successor of his distant ancestor Bad King John of Magna Carta fame (35th not counting Lady Jane Grey and with WilliamAndMary as one), has now put forward a Terra Carta that scorns eloquence and majesty and instead aims to put us all into a place where colourless green ideas sleep furiously. Its only redeeming feature is that it is so unreadable that no one will read it, and the mischief it proposes may therefore never come to pass.

Magna Carta is itself part inspiring charter of liberty, part boring list of long-forgotten advisors some of whom were rogues. For instance nobody now cares that John was, or claimed to be, counseled by such persons as “Joceline of Bath and Glastonbury” and “Master Pandulph our Lord the Pope’s Subdeacon and familiar” along with others more likely to have been holding a sword to his throat than whispering in his ear. But we still thrill, or should, to phrases like “the English Church shall be free, and shall have her whole rights and her liberties inviolable” and “No free-man shall be seized, or imprisoned, or dispossessed, or outlawed, or in any way destroyed; nor will we condemn him, nor will we commit him to prison, excepting by the legal judgment of his peers, or by the laws of the land.”

Glorious words, and ones that have echoed down through the centuries. Mind you, Magna Carta has its less inspiring portions including some anti-Semitic clauses mercifully long discarded in practice. And it is more amusing than instructive to ponder the king’s promise to get rid of anyone even remotely connected with a certain Gerard de Athée, who must have been a rogue indeed to have stood out among John’s sinister companions.

Good riddance, one may say, even to the memory of “Engelard de Cigogné, Peter, Guy and Andrew de Chanceaux, Guy de Cigogné, Geoffrey de Martigny, and his brothers, Philip Mark, and his brothers, and Geoffrey his nephew, and all their followers”, all destined to depart the realm with the imprint of a royal boot upon the lower rear portion of their hauberks. But Great Charter also guaranteed the “ancient liberties” of the city of London, protected at least some rights for women (including “At her husband’s death, a widow may have her marriage portion and inheritance at once and without trouble” and “No widow shall be compelled to marry”) and forbade taxation without representation. (Yes, really, in Clause 12 of the original, saying “No scutage nor aid shall be imposed in our kingdom, unless by the common council of our kingdom”.)

Magna Carta has inspired lovers of freedom from Edward Coke to John Adams to Churchill. If we get started on it, we’ll be here all day so just watch the documentary. And reflect in doing so that to grasp at the mantle of this great and foundational guarantee of individual rights is a preposterous act of vainglory unless you have something genuinely epochal to say. Regrettably if we get started on Terra Carta we’ll be here less than a minute because the main thing it has to say is “You are getting sleeeeepy.”

It contains green ideas. But they are colourless. It reads like a UN resolution, with a long dreary everybody-gets-to-add-something preamble that does things like “Recognize that to scale sustainable solutions and investment, cross-border and longer-term ‘mega’ projects need to be explored, underscoring the importance of public, private and philanthropic collaboration”.

When we get to its operational portions, well, they administer even more chloroform. Instead of inspiring declarations like “To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice” (Magna Carta Clause 40, and those were the days, as anyone who’s been sentenced to life in court in the modern world can testify), the would-be modern version mumbles “The Terra Carta aims to provide an integrated roadmap towards an inspiring, inclusive, equitable, prosperous and sustainable future for the sake of present and future generations; one that will harness the power of Nature combined with the transformative power, innovation and resources of the private sector.” Uh, you forgot to inspire.

Or how about “Leveraging global innovation centers, moonshot and design thinking, disruptors, scientists, engineers, young people, artists, designers and thought leaders to expand the view what is possible in terms of a sustainable future and what it will take to get there.” Cliché Carta, man. And whoever wrote the bit about “Techniques to accelerate roadmaps” should have their crayon confiscated.

Along with the author of “Working towards Carbon Neutrality and Net Zero across Scope 1, 2 and, where possible, Scope 3 emissions and to raise awareness and discussion of the need to resolve the unpriced externality of continued emissions, including an incentive structure to reduce those emissions. This includes ensuring Carbon Offsets are credible, transparent, and traceable.”

For all that narcolepsy, while its green ideas may sleep rhetorically, they also sleep furiously, because it envisions a radical transformation of the economy. For instance “Exploring how to tackle perverse subsidies, lending and investment (e.g. fossil fuel, forestry, fisheries and agriculture). Reversing these perverse practices has the potential to rapidly redirect resources to accelerate the transition to sustainable industries and a sustainable future.” In short, make finance a branch of government.

Finally, in the spirit of liberty we draw particular attention to Terra Carta clauses worthy of Gerard de Athée like “In targeting a global private sector and a diverse multi-industry audience, it is recognized that actions outlined by the Terra Carta will not apply equally to all.” As in the West will cripple itself and China will laugh.

Not what Stephen Langdon had in mind. And with all due respect to His Royal Highness, a misappropriation of his and our heritage that is unworthy in every way from the linguistic to the conceptual.

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