On Wednesday, 27 secret letters sent by Prince Charles to government ministers between 2004 and 2005 will be published, exposing the extent of his influence on parliament at the time.
The letters have been at the centre of a decade-long legal battle, which was kicked off by Guardian journalist Rob Evans, who applied for a Freedom of Information Request in 2005 to see the letters.
The documents, dubbed the “black spider memos” because of Prince Charles’ distinctive spirally handwriting, were written between September 2004 and April 2005 to seven Whitehall ministers from Tony Blair’s Labour government.
The government has battled against publication of the letters because they are thought to contain the Prince of Wales “particularly frank” interventions on government issues, which would undermine “his position of political neutrality,” according to former attorney general Dominic Grieve, who in 2012 vetoed the information tribunal’s decision to allow the public to read the letters.
The Royal family is expected to remain impartial on public issues (which is why, for instance, the Queen abstains from voting in general elections).
Despite much kerfuffle over their release, there are at least three reasons why the public may be underwhelmed when the so-called “black spider memos” are finally published.
Firstly, even though Clarence House said it was “disappointed” by the supreme court’s ruling in March to release the letters, Charles and his staff are reportedly “sanguine” about the decision, according to the Daily Mail.
The Prince’s closest advisers reviewed the letters and concluded there are “no bombshells,” according to the Telegraph.
At least one government minister who received a black spider memo has supported claims that the letters are basically harmless.
“Certainly we didn’t see eye to eye with Prince Charles about GM foods. But I don’t recall it being a difficulty,” she said.
What’s more, even if the letters do contain damaging material, the documents are going to be published with some redactions to avoid naming third parties. This will prevent the press from squeezing out more juicy details — if they exist at all.
Further downplaying the drama, the Telegraph notes that fewer than 10 of the 27 letters were written by the Prince — and all of them are typed out.
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