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NZ And Its Royal Egalitarian Heritage

It's taken more than 70 years for politicians to convince New Zealanders they should get rid of royal titles and honours, but this coalition government finally looks set to do it. John Howard writes.

The reasons given now to rid ourselves of ties to the Monarchy are said to be that they don't fit into New Zealand's modern egalitarian society. But it's much deeper than that.

Fortunately, one former Labour politician and cabinet minister was in the habit of recording events, stories, conversations, in fact, anything which struck him as noteworthy. That politician was John A Lee.

He lived through tempestuous days and he writes with vigour. He did it, he says, because old issues, fiercely contested, tend to be forgotten but are inevitably raised again years later.

Lee, among others said; "Nothing happens in politics by accident."

He writes; "The wet/dry - Catholic/Protestant period had to be lived through to be believed."

He was expelled from the Labour Party under the spurious charge that his actions contributed to the death of Michael Joseph Savage. For that, what he writes becomes even more compelling.

If a former National Party politician ever found the guts to write about their party with as much candid openess, criticism, and perhaps bitterness, as did John A Lee, New Zealand would be the better for it.

Lee wrote many books, three of which I have in my library. Simple on a Soapbox - Political Notebooks - Rhetoric at the Red Dawn.

In Political Notebooks he writes at page 34;

" William Barnard, Speaker 1936-44, was never knighted, nor was William Jordan while High Commissioner. (to London)

The party, particularly Peter Fraser and Walter Nash, was against titles.

Walter at all conferences and caucus discussions on titles was completely opposed. Until he wanted one for himself.

When he did accept a title he quoted - as an excuse - the fact that Jordan was knighted after returning to New Zealand from his post in London. What he did not say was that the Labour cabinet had refused Jordan a title, and it had only been granted after National came to power and Sid Holland became Prime Minister.

That was characteristic of Nash. He was always against things unless something was coming his way."

And on page 30 he writes;

" When a by-election occured in Remuera in the late 1920's, Tom Bloodworth was selected as the Labour candidate. He rocked members of the Labour Party by saying that if elected he would be happy to "shake hands with visiting royalty."

Even as late as 1930 an affirmation of this sort caused a chill of horror to reach the Labour spine, something the radical historian tends to forget.

Tom's affirmation drew big headlines in the press through the whole country.

As an MP and Wellington Labour councillor, Peter Fraser had refused to dine with royalty. In parliament the Labour Party boycotted the visit of the Prince of Wales shortly after the war and refused to dine with the admirals when the Massey government arranged a function for the visiting United States fleet.

When Fred Bartram MP visited England and accepted an invitation to Buckingham Palace, the Trades Hall trembled.

Bill Parry, later the Hon Bill, called the Union Jack a piratical flag and Peter Fraser in a rhetorical gesture put the flag on the floor, and to the audience's delight, wiped his hobnailed boots on the national emblem. In those days Peter squared his shoulders with reverence only for the singing of the Red Flag. Attitudes changed when he became prime minister."

So this sophistry about royal titles not now fitting in with New Zealand's egalitarian society is bullshit.

The plan to rid New Zealand of the titles and honours system has been within Labour and, I strongly suspect National, for decades. It's just that a former high-profile Labour politician has written about it whereas, to the best of my knowledge, National politicians haven't.

Scoop readers will, however, recall that it was the National government under Jim Bolger in 1995 who established a committee which ultimately recommended ending titles.

John A Lee wasn't totally blameless either. But the history of every country begins in the heart of a man or woman and I think John A Lee had that heart.

Finally, I suppose, politicians are the same everywhere. They promise to build a bridge even when there's no river.


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