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Prince Charles uses Andrew’s indiscretions to push role as ‘Shadow King’

The Prince of Wales was said to be worried that the scandal had spiralled so rapidly that it was threatening to eclipse this month’s general election in Britain, The Times reported.

Charles has long pushed for a more streamlined royal family, with fewer members carrying out official duties, drawing from the public purse, or generating damaging publicity. But the Andrew debacle is the most visible sign yet that the shift has begun to happen. Some British papers all but implored the heir to take de facto control.

The Queen and Prince Charles attend the annual Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall in early November.

The Queen and Prince Charles attend the annual Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall in early November.Credit:Getty Images

In an editorial under the headline “Shadow king” The Times argued that the monarchy “needs a firmer grip at the centre”.

“This can only come from Prince Charles,” it said.

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“Although he has faced his own set of scandals, he has already taken on a greater role and can do more, in effect acting as king-in-waiting.”

Valentine Low, who covers the royal family for that newspaper, said that under the ageing queen, “there are all these different entities in the family, and they operate in silos”.

“Andrew is a minor silo,” he said. “But you occasionally get a crisis where you need leadership from the centre.”

The latest crisis erupted at a time when Britain’s political leaders, paralysed by Brexit, are in little position to help. Far from steadying the crown, as prime minister Tony Blair did when the Queen misjudged the public mood after the death of Princess Diana in 1997, today’s politicians are drawing her into their own frantic machinations.

Critics accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of misleading the Queen when he asked her to suspend Parliament for a period of weeks, rather than the customary few days, in an effort to curtail parliamentary discussion and action on Brexit. The decision was later declared illegal by Britain’s Supreme Court.

When the Queen presented Johnson’s legislative agenda at the state opening of Parliament just weeks before he called an election, critics said she was being exploited to deliver a campaign manifesto dressed up as a Queen’s speech.

The Queen and Prince Charles attend the State Opening of Parliament.

The Queen and Prince Charles attend the State Opening of Parliament.Credit:Getty Images

“Politics, as we see at the moment, are grubby, dishonest and chaotic,” said Penny Junor, a royal biographer. “The monarchy is a rock of stability that has served this country well in times of crisis. But we’re coming to the end of a pretty troubled year, which adds to the woes of the family.”

The interview with Andrew raised a host of questions, not least whether the Queen had signed off on her son’s decision to invite cameras into Buckingham Palace.

The BBC journalist who conducted the interview, Emily Maitlis, said the Queen had. But given the opacity of the palace, even she hedged slightly: Prince Andrew, she wrote in a behind-the-scenes essay published in The Times, told her team that “he must ‘seek approval from higher up’. It dawns on us then that he means the Queen herself. At 8am the next day we have a message telling us to call his office. The Queen, it seems, is on board.”

All of this intrigue unfolded, palace watchers noted, while Charles was preparing to leave on his royal tour of New Zealand and the Pacific.

 Things are not looking up for the 'Firm'.

Things are not looking up for the ‘Firm’.Credit:AP

What happened afterwards was less mysterious. After four days of brutal headlines, calls for  Andrew to testify under oath to the FBI and a wholesale exodus of the prince’s charitable organisations, Andrew issued a statement in which he declared that he had asked his mother to let him “step back from public duties for the foreseeable future, and she has given her permission.”

The episode laid bare a paradox: while Buckingham Palace has prepared meticulously for the death of the Queen and the accession of Prince Charles, its handling of the Prince Andrew affair shows that the royal family is less prepared to handle the vexing problems that keep coming up in the twilight of her reign.

The Prince of Wales has been on a tour of New Zealand.

The Prince of Wales has been on a tour of New Zealand. Credit:Getty Images

Any overt move to sideline the Queen would be extremely sensitive, given her beloved status. She remains a seemingly eternal presence in British life, logging nearly 300 public engagements last year and speaking for the nation, such as when she issued a statement after the terrorist attack near London Bridge, thanking “the brave individuals who put their own lives at risk to selflessly help and protect others”.

But royal watchers said her grip on internal matters had weakened for several reasons. Her husband, Prince Philip, who functioned as the family disciplinarian, is 98 and lives in retirement at Sandringham, one of the royal estates. In January, after striking a car in his Land Rover, he claimed he had been blinded by the sun, in what proved a harbinger of a troubled year for the monarchy.

Prince Philip has retired from public life.

Prince Philip has retired from public life.Credit:AP

The Queen had lost another trusted counsellor in 2017 when her longtime private secretary, Christopher Geidt, left after an internal power struggle. Geidt, people with ties to the palace said, had put himself on a collision course with Andrew and Charles by trying to centralise control under their mother.

But they also credited Geidt with running a tight ship. A military scholar, he helped arbitrate the negotiations between David Cameron and Nick Clegg that resulted in a coalition government between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats after the elections in 2010.

The Queen’s current private secretary, Edward Young, is a less forceful presence, these people said. By contrast, the private secretary to Charles, Clive Alderton, is a formidable former ambassador to Morocco who is expected to help the prince navigate his accession to the throne.

However unsavoury Andrew’s history with Epstein, royal observers said it did not pose as dire a threat as had the unravelling of Charles’ marriage to Diana. Except for potential legal exposure in a criminal investigation of Epstein, Andrew is likely to vanish into memory (though not before the BBC broadcasts another program about him and Epstein on Monday, Tuesday AEDT).

The Queen is reportedly unhappy with Prince Andrew's interview.

The Queen is reportedly unhappy with Prince Andrew’s interview.Credit:Getty Images

“They’ve moved swiftly to sort it out in the cold-blooded and ruthless way they have,” Low said.

Simon Jenkins, a columnist and author, likened Andrew’s travails to a scandal involving a Hollywood celebrity. He said it was “of absolutely no consequence” in a country that is going to the polls in two weeks in an election that will have profound consequences for its place in the world.

In an election debate two weeks ago, Johnson and the leader of the opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, each tried, in their own way, to avoid making Andrew a political issue when they were asked whether the monarchy was fit for purpose.

“Needs a bit of improvement,” Corbyn replied.

“The monarchy is beyond reproach,” said Johnson, who has faced questions about his own peccadilloes.

What Buckingham Palace needs to worry more about, royal watchers said, is Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. Reports of strain between him and his brother, Prince William, and of Meghan’s struggles to adapt to her new life, are more damaging because these young royals symbolise the House of Windsor’s future, not its messy past.

“For them to be breaking away from the family,” Junor said, “does have implications for the future of the monarchy.”

The New York Times

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