Prince Charles is not a comfortable character. Impossible to pigeon-hole, he is evidently ill-at-ease with the spirit of the age. For a start, in a post-religious country, this is a man with a deeply religious temperament. I have no idea what his private beliefs are. He is a loyal member of the Church of England, which could mean anything. But – unlike far too many senior figures in that confused body – he has a strong sense that human life is meaningless without a powerful religious dimension. This is a man of faith, when faith is unfashionable.
He is also a serious man, when seriousness is unfashionable. He is Prince Charles agonistes. The level of public debate in this country is deplorably low: much more so than in France, God help us. Imagine: being surpassed by the French. The media – and this is not only true of the BBC – is full of supposedly educated people who compete to dumb down. As for what is going on in schools: better for one's peace of mind not to know. The average child seems to believe that the Duke of Wellington burned the cakes while King Alfred was married to Queen Victoria. Michael Gove – whom God preserve – is not just fighting to improve our schools. He is battling against the odds to save this country's links with Western civilisation.
The Prince of Wales is one of his allies. His Royal Highness insists that children should learn history and read Shakespeare, while aspirant artists should study the Old Masters and learn how to draw. Some people would regard those as right-wing views, which is further proof of dumbing down. In the days before "socialist intellectual" became an oxymoron, idealistic lefties would have reviled and scorned any suggestion that cultural riches should be reserved for the rich. Prince Charles passionately espouses the profoundly generous and democratic belief that all his future subjects should have access to the splendours of their cultural and intellectual heritage.
The Prince also engages with the future, especially with science. One of the last Renaissance men, he argues that science is too important to be left to the scientists and that the researches taking place in their laboratories should be part of a humane and moral discourse. For what little it is worth, I do not share his anxieties about genetically-modified foods. World food supplies are bound to come under increasing pressure, and we cannot feed all the starving millions on Duchy Originals. But agreement is not the point. Once again, Prince Charles is encouraging discussion and debate. Is anyone saying that science should be exempted from discussion and debate? Given the breadth of the Prince's interests, there is an inescapable conclusion: this is the most important public intellectual of our time.
Nor is he only a theoretician. The Prince of Wales has tried to suppress ugly architecture and encourage good buildings. Most British cities have suffered far more from bad architects than they did from the Luftwaffe. Without the Prince, it would be even worse. If only he had intervened earlier and more often.
He has not only tried to save cities; he has striven to elevate their inhabitants. The Prince's Trust has helped hundreds of thousands of youngsters to recover from the consequences of bad parenting and worse schooling. It may well be the most successful social work organisation in modern history. It has not received nearly enough publicity, because too few media outlets are interested in good news stories. They would rather salivate over Bimbo Bimbette's Lesbian walk-out with Florette Floosie.
Our inner cities offer a multitude of reasons for pessimism. Without Prince Charles's efforts, the unemployment figures would be worse: the crime figures, higher.
So: we have an heir to the throne who is a wholly admirable character and a perennially uncomfortable one: a man who places no priority on his own peace of mind – and who is prepared to make a bit of trouble for others. Prince Charles writes letters to Ministers. Although we know almost nothing about this correspondence, we can make a couple of assumptions. The letters will be probing and thoughtful. They will not be easy to answer. The rest of us have a choice. We could decide that as ministers and their senior officials are already over-worked, it is unfair to add to their burdens or we could conclude that it does them no harm at all to have their assumptions challenged and to be forced to justify themselves. I know how I am voting.
There is a precedent. In the early years of the century, whenever a woman was sentenced to death, Queen Alexandra would write to the Home Secretary, urging a reprieve if all possible. The Home Secretaries did not like it. To be fair to those holders of that great office, none of them would have enjoyed sending women to the gallows. One can see why they might have wished that the Queen would refrain from exacerbating their stress and sleeplessness. Even so, when all the parties are long dead, we surely salute Queen Alexandra. It may also be unfashionable to refer to the gentler sex. Queen Alexandra would not have found it so, when she was lobbying for gentleness.
In the very long fulness, when Prince Charles's letters are published, I am certain that they will add to his reputation and that posterity will conclude that they were a force for good. If it were not confidential, such a correspondence could not exist. One leak did take place; that was not Prince Charles's fault. Dominic Grieve was absolutely right to protect the rest of the letters.
Let us hope that the Prince of Wales persists with his letters. Let him continue to advise and to warn, in the interest of good government – in the public interest.