AFTER ALL the acres of space devoted to telling us what a serious, compassionate, concerned and public-spirited man the Prince of Wales is, it was a profound relief last week to have incontrovertible proof that he is nothing but a ghastly snob.
His “outburst” (princes only ever say anything in “outbursts”—anything said in agreement is usually too anodyne to be repeated) on people who don’t speak the King’s English and the teachers who don’t teach the King’s English was generally well received in the Tory press.
Some Tory commentators were a little surprised that the nice and charming Prince should attack his own staff so offensively.
But what they all liked was the political consequences of what the Prince was saying: that in the old days of decent, disciplined grammar schools there was at least a section of the lower orders princes could rely on to speak and spell.
Now, with the onward march of the comprehensive school and the dreaded spread of equality (and with most teachers in state schools being obsessed with left wing politics), people didn’t speak and spell the way they used to.
It is all part of a plot to subvert the King and constitution by not speaking properly like the King and not even being able to spell constitution.
What facts and figures there are show this notion to be a fantasy. Even after the attack on comprehensive education started by the Mad Monk, Sir Keith Joseph, and carried on so viciously by Kenneth Baker, more people are passing examinations in English than ever before.
More people can read than ever before, more people can write than ever before and more books are being read (and written, and even published) than ever before.
The figures are not terribly impressive, and they are tied to dull and enervating examinations. But they do show that there is not and has not been a general deterioration in literacy.
Compared with what the Prince of Wales and the Tory newspaper editors who support his outburst mean when they talk of the “good old days” standards have risen hugely.
What then is it which inspires these outbursts about the stupidity and ignorance of the masses and the incompetence of teachers? It is snobbery. Snobbery arises from the belief in the ruling class that ability is measured by breeding and power.
If you were properly brought up, if you went to the right kind of school, if for that matter you talk in the right kind of accent, then you believe you are better than other people.
Consider for a moment the Prince of Wales himself. He is a man without any recognisable ability whatever. He has never written more than two sentences which appear to make sense.
When he appeared on television last year to talk about architecture, he talked the most unutterable drivel, lapsing again and again into the insistence that architecture must match up to God’s will. (This is, I think, why he so likes the new pavilion at Lords.)
He cannot speak without gritting his teeth and grunting through them.
The King’s English he adores is a dreadful language of pride, privilege and confusion. No king or queen of England has ever written a single sentence which would bear reproduction.
Good plain language has nothing to do with breeding or riches or even with education. The two best ever writers of English prose in my opinion are Thomas Paine and James Connolly. One was the son of a stay-maker in Thetford, Norfolk, the other of an impoverished carter in Edinburgh.
Both taught themselves to write, and by their writing helped to change the destiny of the people of America, Britain and Ireland.
They wrote straight plain language of the type no prince could ever hope to write, since they had to convey a simple message to people who had no time for frills or silly disciplines, but were quick to respond to fine language.
Keats and Shakespeare came from nowhere, and Shelley wrote plainly in spite of and almost in defiance of his birth and education.
Nothing could be more ridiculous or illustrative of the nastiness of our divided society than the snivelling sound of this Prince of Dunces pouring stilted and cacophonous indignation over his subjects.
He thinks they must be worse than him because they don’t sound like him.