David Miller Online: Is the Empire Striking Back?
Is the Empire Striking Back?
In a year that has seen the death of her mother and sister, Queen Elizabeth II finally has something to cheer about. 2002 is after all he Golden Jubilee and after making it perfectly clear in her speech to Parliament that she has no intention of relinquishing her reign to Prince Charles, she can take heart that her popularity both in Britain and elsewhere has recovered strongly since the time of Princess Diana’s death. The death of Princess Margaret and the much loved and respected Queen Mother gave the Queen a huge amount of personal sympathy and her jubilee has brought a wave of nostalgia to Britain that has deepened the affection people have for the monarch. There are those who would disagree with this sentiment both in the UK and elsewhere who feel that the monarchy is a relic from times gone by and should be replaced with a system of government that is more suited to the 21st Century. Over the past few years this republican sentiment has grown with the growing demand that New Zealand, like other Commonwealth Dominions become republics. Nevertheless, is the position of the Queen really under threat?
What is perhaps the House of Windsor’s greatest asset is that it is steeped in history, with much of its position, procedures and protocol stemming from this tradition. While time- honoured ceremonies are elements to the monarchy that are often spectacular and certainly unique, they are often the source for opposition as well and criticism that they still favour bias. For example it is still not possible that a Catholic, adopted child and anyone born out of wedlock could assume the throne. One could argue that this is discrimination and given that it these policies date from the Act of Settlement of 1701 would have the basis for an argument. On the other hand given that the monarch is head of the Church of England and any succession passing to their first born child would do so in wedlock negates this although Britain is considering passing legislation that allows a female to inherit the throne through their right of birth and not through marriage only.
Despite such feelings within the United Kingdom, Queen Elizabeth II remains the head of the Commonwealth and the head of state in 16 of its member states, including New Zealand. Currently there are moves in several of those states to move towards a republican structure, including Jamaica and Barbados. Both of these states are currently conducting constitutional reviews, which address the replacement of the Queen by a locally elected head of state and see this process as a means of removing what they regard as the last vestiges of colonialism.
New Zealand has also undertaken some steps in this direction. Since taking office last year, the Labour- Alliance coalition has already abolished the Buckingham Palace honours system and replacing it with a New Zealand order of merit. Prime Minister Helen Clark has also expressed her views on the matter, claiming it makes little sense to have a head of state that resides 12,000 miles away, while members of the Green Party have also declared their republican stance. However will New Zealand be able to abolish the monarchy?
This will not be easy. Although the monarchy has certainly lost its lustre for many in this country and elsewhere, the Queen still holds an enormous amount of respect. Her attitude towards the death of Diana did not do her any favours however it has been the younger and minor royals that have done the most harm to the reputation and image of the monarchy. Prince Charles’ relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles has fuelled hostility as have the antics of Playboy Prince Andrew and the gaffes of the Earl and Countess of Wesex and allegations of their use of royal position to further their business careers have not helped matter either. The growing sense of regionalism around the world is another element that weakens the bond to the monarchy. The United Kingdom has become more European focused since the 1970’s and has weakened its relationship with the Commonwealth while New Zealand has sought to become more integrated in the Asia- Pacific region in terms of its future. Given such processes being at work then the role of the monarchy can only become less relevant to New Zealanders.
While it would seem the logical progression for this nation’s development to have a New Zealander as a head of state in the 21st Century, there is no the overwhelming desire on the part of this country’s people to change the status quo. While people may question the role of Queen Elizabeth II and possibly King Charles III as head of state in New Zealand the alternatives are as equally unappealing. This was the factor in the Australian referendum last year, in that there was distaste for the creation of a president that would be appointed by the Prime Minister or parliament. This is an issue that New Zealand republicans must content with if they are to win the hearts and minds of the population. Politicians in this country are not held in the highest of regard and the notion of political bias is sure to taint, even scuttle any argument for the creation of the office of President of New Zealand. The other factor that allows the monarchy to gain support is the popularity of Prince William. This is an overlooked fact and one of huge strength to monarchists. The young Prince is so often compared with his late mother and the affection people had for Diana is now given to William. The same good looks have made him hugely popular among young people and this support will be vital if the monarchy is to survive.
It is unlikely that New Zealand will remove the Queen from her position as head of state for some time yet, despite the growing apathy towards her position and even growing dissent. Should Australia vote to become a republic at some stage in the future then this will likely act as a catalyst for debate here, and the case will be the same should the Commonwealth elect a non- Briton in her place at the head of that organisation. Until then, New Zealanders will remain royal subjects especially as for many the monarchy is simply part of the constitutional mechanism of this country and that, is the limit of its influence in peoples lives. The monarchy is the body, which signed the Treaty of Waitangi and is seen to be above the politics here. For many it is simply an arrangement of convenience with few favourable alternatives, and this is what the republican side must overcome to alter people’s perspective and force change. It is for these reasons that New Zealanders while regarding themselves as citizens will also remain subjects of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
PS. Republicans should not take to much heart out of the fact that 64% of Britons said the soccer World Cup was more important that the Jubilee. It has been reported that even Princes William and Harry were upset at having to attend church instead of tuning in to watch the 1-all draw with Sweden.