- Date published:
12:46 am, May 5th, 2023 - 111 comments
Categories: leadership, uk politics - Tags: Feudalism, monarchy, nick kelly
Originally posted on Nick Kelly’s blog
On Saturday, the coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla will take place. The last coronation of Queen Elizabeth II took place on 2 June 1953 and was one of only five such events in the 20th century.
The Coronation is certainly a historic event, but what is its relevance to the modern world?
In a 21st-century democracy, is it really still appropriate for someone to inherit the role of head of state, purely based on their bloodline? Does it make sense for this same person, not only to be head of state of the United Kingdom but also of Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, the Bahamas, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and the Grenadines, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu?
In November 2021, Barbados became a republic cutting ties with the British Monarchy, though still remaining a member of the Commonwealth. Barbados was a British colony until 1966, and becoming a republic has been viewed as an important step in self-government and breaking with that nation’s colonial past.
Similar moves are likely in Jamaica, with that country now planning to hold a referendum on the issue in 2024. Polls in Jamaica show a significant majority wanting the country to become a republic. Painful historic links to British Imperialism and the transatlantic slave trade are still major issues for people in Jamaica. Becoming a republic will help break this link.
Australia will likely hold a referendum on the issue in the next few years, though this will happen after the referendum on indigenous representation in parliament. Australia last held a referendum on becoming a republic in 1999. At this time the choice was between remaining a constitutional monarchy or becoming a republic where parliament appointed a president. Polls indicated at the time and since that were voters given the option of electing a president, support for becoming a republic would have been much higher.
Whilst a majority still support the monarchy in the UK, increasingly people do not view it as important. A recent British Social Attitudes study conducted recently shows the number of people who say the monarchy is “very important” has fallen to 29%, from 38% in 2022. Also, 45% of respondents said the monarch should now be abolished. Further, a report in the Telegraph recently said that 75% of people aged 18-24 do not care very much about the coronation, and 69% of 25-49 year-olds say the same. Even those aged over 65, the demographic most supportive of the monarchy, are not terribly interested with 53% saying they do not care very much.
With support for the monarchy being lackluster at best in the UK, and declining support in the other 14 nations where the British monarch is the head of state, does the monarchy really have a future?
Those who campaign in favor of the institution tend to use strawman arguments. These include the stability of constitutional democracies, though given recent events in British politics this argument now gets used far less. Another is that the monarchy is somehow cheaper than becoming a republic. When one takes into account the upkeep of royal palaces, the cost of coronations, and royal tours it is not clear how they come to this conclusion.
The argument that always comes up is the comparison with the United States. In recent years monarchists have used Trump as evidence for why we need a monarchy. Firstly, this assumes the United States is the only form of republic possible, ignoring the many other working examples of republics with strong working democracies. Secondly, the Trump bogeyman conveniently ignores the premiership of Johnson and Truss in the UK, or Scott Morrison in Australia, for which the monarchy provided no helpful check or balance.
Support for the monarchy is largely based on sentimentality. Democracies are not enhanced by feudal relics performing old-fashioned ceremonies and living in castles. These quaint traditions and displays are all rather nice, and for the most part fairly benign and harmless in themselves. But to pretend that they are in any way relevant to the modern world is absurd.
The links to colonialism and British imperialism are certainly not so benign, and have relevance today. The slave trade has directly contributed to racial inequalities that exist today. In New Zealand, the government is still resolving historical grievances from when ‘The Crown’ stole land and resources from Maori. There are similar histories in Australia and Canada. Becoming a republic does not put an end to these historical injustices. But sentimentality toward the institutions responsible is illogical and ignorant.
Few would argue that abolishing the monarch or other debates about the future of this institution are a priority at this time. Having come through a pandemic and now a cost-of-living crisis coupled with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there are more pressing issues to address. At the same time, it is little surprise that interest in the coronation is low.
In all likelihood, we will now see the monarchy face a slow but steady decline. The priority must now be on strengthening democratic institutions to face the challenges of the future, not the idealization of feudal relics.
I agree that the monarchy will likely fade away in years to come : but pushing for a republic here in NZ is not a priority for most. I don’t agree with your comment about the monarchy not being cheaper : in NZ it is very cheap for us. We pay nothing to the Monarchy in the UK. We have a ceremonial HOS based in NZ but neither she nor King Charles have any power to change parliament’s decisions. The apparatus that would be required of a Republic – elected or appointed President or otherwise – would NOT come without significant cost.
Despite what you say about Tory governments in the UK and elsewhere, I hope you are not suggesting we want a President who has the power to change the people’s decisions? Surely the answer lies in electoral reform – particularly in the UK?
I accept there may be other models, but from what I’ve seen of the chaos caused by power hungry Presidents eg Trump, (and Macron) it is hard to be enthusiastic about bringing that down on NZ. We have enough to be getting on with (yeah I know you said using Trump as an example is a straw man argument but it’s hard to go past it).
I view this as a moment in history and for the UK more than 1000 years ; which is why I will probably watch some of the coronation on the Telly. It may well be the beginning of the end.
PS I will not be saying God save King Charles.
The great and often understated merit of constitutional monarchy is that is symbolically separates out the institution of the state from the role of the individual.
By contrast in China which has a deep history of concentrating state power and peak authority into the hands of one individual, has inevitably fallen foul of the "Bad Emperor" problem. Much the same can be said of Putin, for about a decade on balance he probably did Russia more good than not – but then unconstrained power, a culture of unaccountability, isolation and fewer people willing to tell him anything other than what they know is safe to say – has led to the current debacle.
The western divine right monarchs were no different to Emperors, till the Bill of Rights and parliamentary governance. Both Russia (1905-1914 and 1917) and China (1912-1928 and 1928-1937) had too short a period to consolidate transition to a constitutional regime.
The tragedy of post 1990 Russia is one of provoked Russian nationalism (transfer of state owned wealth to oligarchs and NATO expansion incitement) and its nationalism is authoritarian.
Just ditch the apologist 'Nato expansionism' crap – it demeans you. NATO only expanded into Eastern Europe because those nations made a clear sovereign choice between Europe and Russia. No-one invaded them, no-one coerced them into it.
The evolution of constitutional monarchy in the west has many turning points, although many point to the Treaty of Westphalia as one of the more significant steps along the path of creating the modern nation state. The evolution from monarch as absolute power to that of a figurehead representation of the state was a slow and bumpy ride. It is not clear to me that ditching all that painfully won progress just for the sake of change is not necessarily smart. Our ancestors might not have had smartphones – but they were not stupid.
As for Russia – it is one of my pet peeves that the Tsarist monarchs are presented as unalloyed tyrants, mired in medieval ignorance. During much of the 1900's the Russian nation paced its peers across Europe, albeit a few steps behind. Social and industrial progress was being made, and if they had maintained that development track it is quite reasonable to suggest their modern day population and economy might be on a par with the US.
Instead, starting with disasters such as a revolutionary assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881 – which prompted his son to retreat from the social reforms of his father, the subsequent Marxist Revolution, the catastrophic impact of Stalinism and the gulags, his notorious pact with Hitler effectively partitioning Poland and making WW2 inevitable, the economic death pact that was the Cold War – all successively brutalised that unfortunate nation. And to my mind stands as an object lesson in the fatal, pathological flaws of revolutionaries and their vainglorious fantasms.
The modern nation state is indeed a very powerful servant, which is why we must guard against it falling under the spell of tyrants and buffoons infected with the idea of their personal excellence and manifest destiny.
The critic of the said NATO expansionism was George Kennan, architect of containment, who said it would lead to a revival of Russian nationalism (authoritarianism/conflict). Truth bears repeating.
When Europe expanded they queued up with pens to sign the accords in peace.
When Russia expands it looks quite different, they queue up to either escape or to be handed the weapons needed to expel them.
Tsarist Russian economic development was being bankrolled by the French, who were desperate to build up a counterweight to Imperial Germany. For obvious reasons, that was not something that could continue indefinitely, and progress was being fought against by the authorities at every step.
Imperial Russia was the epicentre of reaction, the heartland of anti-semitism (Protocols of the Elders of Zion?), presided over by a Divine Right tyrant as incompetent as he was brutal. The masses of peasants were illiterate – and would remain so until the great Soviet education campaigns. The Tsarist system relied on such ignorance, and fed off it.
It's also the system Putin himself is the spiritual successor to (right down to his ties with the Orthodox Church) – he fulfils the same reactionary role as Hungary's Admiral Horthy did between the wars.
It is an exercise in Captain Obvious to compile a list of shortcomings and then pretend this is representative of an entire nation, over a whole century. The Russia story is far more nuanced than the shit-stained glasses you are looking through.
For a start Russia would not be the sole repository of anti-Semitism; the whole of Europe shared in that.
Nor would it be the only nation reliant of external capital to develop. Despite it's size and untapped natural resources, Russian geography means their agriculture is low density, relatively low productivity and lacks the population and economic critical mass to develop reliable transport networks. Which in turn meant capital formation and industrialisation lagged their competitors further west – but it was happening all the same.
Cities such as Ekaterinburg were major centres of mining, metal works and manufacturing – much on a par with the west. They were building some of the earliest locomotives and pioneered quite a few heavy industrial technologies. Not to mention some decent science – such as the remarkable Dimitri Mendeleev's definitive description of the Periodic Table of the Elements. Plus all the great literature and arts from that era. By most measures they lagged the west, but they were not out of the race either.
I could go on, but to cut to the chase – around the turn of century in 1900, both Russia and the USA had similar populations and comparable economies, but then took wildly different trajectories from there – and frankly the world would likely be a much better place if they had not. If Russia had been able to develop along similar liberal democratic lines to the US, rather than cut down by the marxist revolution and all that followed, the two nations would likely be peers and more like allies – than the bitter opponents they are now.
Tsarist Russia was about as able to evolve along liberal democratic lines as Nicky was able to fly to the moon. The social and economic conditions that lend themselves to liberal democracy did not exist in the Russia of 1900 (even ignoring the fundamental culture of autocracy that has always existed in Russian governance). The Russia of Putin is literate and industrialised, and even they have zero tendency towards liberal democracy.
In 1900, the USA had a culture of responsible governance, based off Enlightenment Liberal principles, a secular state, and a literate populace. Russia had none of that. The peasants couldn't read (especially the women), the regime was answerable only to God, and the Orthodox Church had an iron grip on the populace. Hell, Russia at that point still used the sodding Julian calendar – the switch to the Gregorian only came with the Bolsheviks.
(Yes, they produced great literature. There's no correlation between that and living in a pleasant society).
The fact that you downplay the uniquely evil level of anti-semitism in Tsarist Russia is actually quite interesting. No, it wasn't the sole place in Europe that mistreated Jews, but it was by far the worst – much worse than Imperial Germany, and even worse than the French. And that was an integral part of the entire system.
I daresay the current Right is so eager to demonise the Soviets that you lot are looking at rehabilitating their chief foes. Well, if you're trying to put lipstick on the pig that was Tsarist Russia, I suppose it's not too far away from putting lipstick on an even more repulsive example of the illiberal Right. So much for you lot committing to the Englightenment.
19th century Russia can be roughly divided into two phases. The period before Alexander II was assassinated was not too far apart from Queen Victoria's reign in Britain, and comparable in many ways. The ending of serfdom being one obvious example, and the founding of a fledgling Parliament another.
But Alexander's son was also present at the assassination, his father literally dying in his arms. Combined with the loss of his much revered older brother, and a powerful, reserved conservative personality, Alexander III set about a reactionary reversal of many of his father's reforms. This set in motion the tide of events that led inexorably to the Revolution in 1905, which in turn set the stage for 1917 and the ultimate overthrow of Tsar Nicolas and the Romanovs.
So I partly agree with you – by the time we reach 1917 Tsar Nicholas stood no chance of reforming the state, events had spiraled out of his ability to influence. By then the Russian state, always a marginal affair at best, was so undermined by reactionary incompetence and war that its collapse into deep dysfunction was almost inevitable.
It is of course tempting to write alternate histories, but I am certainly not the only person to have observed that the assassination at the Winter Place in 1881 had tragic consequences that still echo loudly even in today's world.
Alexander II wasn't a Queen Victoria analogy (for a start, the absolute best-case goal would have been Germany, not Britain). He was a Mikhail Gorbachev analogy – a well-meaning liberal incompetent who wound up presiding over a mess. Ironically, it was the reactionary Alexander III who made a better fist of industrialisation.
Because that's the funny thing. Under the Russian system, you don't get a binary between liberal democracy and totalitarianism. You get a binary between Gorbachev/Yeltsin and Putin. Which is why comparisons with the USA are nonsensical.
If I made a comparison between the USA and Russia at roughly the end of the 19th cent – it was thinking in very broad terms – aggregate measures such as population, size of economy and industrial development. I think this is a valid comparison in those terms.
And obviously the political stage was set quite differently – as you correctly explain. In that respect a comparison with Germany is perfectly acceptable.
And as I have said several times, Russia was lagging it's peers in Europe and North America but it is still fair to say Alexander II was headed in a similar direction. Whether you regard his efforts as competent or not does not take away from significant events such as the Emancipation of the Serfs in 1861, the reform of the judiciary, the establishment of Universities and the like. It is a tad lazy to sit back in the armchair of history and criticise – reform at this cultural scale is a massive challenge that few nations get right on their first attempt.
My point still stands, that however you choose to measure it, by the late 1800's Russia had all the potential to progress into modernity as did the USA and Europe. That it did not in many ways still pivots on that assassination. Everything has headed in the wrong direction for Russia pretty much ever since.
Apparently the two met in 1839 and there was quite the romance between the young couple.
And no I was not downplaying Russian anti-semitism. On my first work trip there in 2001 I even encountered snippets of it in person.
But I'm not sure your argument gains much by running an Oppression Olympics on this; how much anti-Semitism is acceptable? Just a little bit is OK?
It reminds me a bit of the futile debates around how many people the 20th cent marxists managed to genocide. Was it 20m or 100m? Frankly as far as I am concerned once you have gone past your first million murders I reckon you have made your point.
It's not a matter of Oppression Olympics. It's a matter of you noting that one of your pet peeves was the demonisation of Tsarist Russia as medieval monsters. Which, to my mind, is a demonisation richly deserved.
If you mean by "fade away" diminish in scope, then I agree.
I spent some time in/with Japan during the late 80s and early 90s. They had aligned themselves culturally to the US because their culture demanded respect for the victors. During the time I was around it, though, they were beginning to find their own way again, and adopting their Monarchy in a more British way. I went again in 2007 and found Japan respectful and proud to have their Monarchy, but more in an ambassadorial, diplomatic sense than being the Sons and Daughters of Heaven. I think the UK Monarchy is headed the same way.
I'm sorry, I don't mean to offend people when I recall the old phrase "every girl wants to be a princess and marry a prince". It's not appropriate and it's not true, but it does describe a kind of mystique that monarchies have that attracts many people to them. Watching "The Crown", they mentioned now and again that they keep a veil between themselves and everyone else that, if it were lifted, would spoil said mystique. That said, the Rolling Stones probably have and foster a similar mystique.
From a trade point of view, I think now is NZ's time to maintain some links with what's now "The Commonwealth". Britain's just coming out of Brexit and surely there must be some of the old relations between the two countries that fostered our latest free trade agreement.
I probably won't watch the coronation. Putting on my best upper-class syntax, "Camilla is my least-favourite Queen's Consort" and I think the coronation might be more about her than Charles.
I will be saying "God save King Charles", because I'm worried that he will have many challenges ahead of him, not least from people close by who have their own agendas. God is one who can be relied on not to turn his back on Charles or be a fair-weather friend and I think many others might well do so… It may be William who saves the monarchy.
Republic? I'll always vote in favour of a monarchy because such a system enables there to be someone who is not allowed to be a politicical player but more of a referee to the game. Unlike most of us, they have everything they need and so it’s difficult to bribe their thinking – “the survival of their ship is more important than the lives of the crew”.
I saw in a movie, or read somewhere a US President (maybe Kennedy, or was it QE2 in The Crown?) who said they saw their role as being a voice for the people who never got to have their opinions counted, or something like that, and I think a successful monarchy has to be that, going forward (Hence, Charles may send it further into a trough before it rebounds). I see no point in having any other head of state for NZ because politics would interfere in their appointment and the operation of their role. We've got enough politicians in my view.
Thank you thinker. I would add,
Charles has brought regenerative and organic farming forward.
He has promoted recycling and restoring as a necessary function of society, and he understands that trades and skills learned over 4000 years are in danger of being lost, (It was lovely to see him support and promote "The Repair shop").
I also think that our biggest threat is knowing what is real, and what is false, so I think he may in future be seen as a reformer, who helped the monarchy become closer to the people. He allows touch and values craftmanship and design.
He is a flawed person, in that he could not stand up to the "Royal machinery", and did "the expected", at great cost to both himself his children and poor Dianna. He also found genuine love with Camilla. I think the Queen's wish for her to be known as Queen consort was to say, "We need to change with the times" I will wish him well.
As to the Monarchy? I think it supports an old class system, and our attempts to devise a better way look patchy, and so it will last until the people ignore it.
It will perhaps end up like the Dutch Royal Family. Name only.
England was a republic for about ten years after the execution of Charles I. I understand it was not a particularly successful experiment. It had no head of state during that period until Oliver Cromwell took over.
No doubt our current monarch is mindful of the fate of his earlier namesake.
A military commander protectorate as a result of upholding the rights of parliament, what could go wrong?
A Tory like Churchill would call him a tyrant (for ruling like an autocrat without being born royal) and the Puritan would call him a champion of liberty (for winning the war, despite then being the autocrat suppressing the freedom of others and his military adventures).
A period of madness (Fronde/Thirty Years War on the continent).
The autocrats of England were defeated first, those of France the most decisively.
I would use the examples of Germany or the Republic of Ireland. Neither are perfect, but they are functioning democracies like NZ.
The cost question depends on what model you have. I always thought basically turning the current Governor General into the official head of state and leaving their powers much as they are now would be a good set up.
Post Cromwell, the term Governor General may be inappropriate – I prefer Crown Rangatira (noble or chief) it sort of differentiates the parliamentary governance from state sovereignty and sounds bi-cultural.
We're only 17 years away from our bicentennary and it's time to grow up.
Also it would stink for National to do it first.
Every now and then, I get a whiff of Lord of the Flies here in NZ.
You mean elections
"…Democracies are not enhanced by feudal relics performing old-fashioned ceremonies and living in castles…"
I mean, if I went around saying I was an Emperor just because some moistened bint had lobbed a Scimitar at me, they'd put me away!
Charming cartoon on Coronation regalia and ceremony from Oz Guardian's Dog on the Moon
irreverent therefore funny. Him indoors enjoyed that!
Yeah na, it was the settler government here what done it.
I suspect we will have to navigate adjustment to the UN Rights of the Indigenous Peoples first before we will be ready to consider our 2040 plan. Also complete the iwi settlements, have Maori language education available to all who want it, have a public resource (environment/conservation and water) management regime and Maori participation in service delivery sorted – before considering constitution stuff.
Look at you and your fancy pants red html.
This article in palladium.com looks at the baleful influence of a moribund synthetic elite, institutions paralysed by archaic protocol, and complacent nostalgia on the steepening decline of the UK. The role played by the ceremonies and defference engendered by the monarchy in all this are implicit.
It seems to me a good argument in favbour of movingaway from the monarchy can simply be one of maintaining political dynamism and keeping a sense that the best years for our nation lie ahead of us, rather than the behind us.
I suggest that people have an intrinsic need for something that is portrayed by “the ceremonies and defference”, and all the rituals and symbolism that come with it. Take it away and people will feel a gaping hole, without even realising it, and they are confused and lost – people do weird things when they are lost and confused, as they become fearful, and grab onto anything that makes those feelings go away and make them feel better instantly if only momentarily. This could be a description of the Zeitgeist.
Will read that article later tonight, thanks.
Do you mean the modern progressive liberal protestors of the 60's/70's (who gave us a neo-liberal regime on their watch), were so assimilated into little England's pavlova paradise in the 50's/60's as children, they need the security of a future in the god of the Crown King/Queen's heaven when in their retirement villages?
Or the gated community homeowners of a global citizenship who fear their home base regime is facing a challenge from wealth, estate and or CGT, environment and GW regulations and an increasingly uppity indigenous people?
When did you start hating New Zealand so much? You really need to get out of your mother's basement more often.
Of the 200 odd nations in the world, there are really only about 30 that you would want to live in if you had a choice. And of those NZ is still in the top 10 or so.
Of course nowhere is perfect – but when you denigrate and shit on the country you are miraculously fortunate to live in – I have to ask, in comparison to what?
Not many people on the centre-left would take any of that personally, resort to personal insult as a defense mechanism, or call into question another’s patriotism. Why aren't you on Kiwiblog again?
Petty would be dictate tyrant.
Surprising as it may sound, I did not have those in mind
Instead of “intrinsic”, I should have said “innate”. People have a set of innate needs. Those needs were catered for (for want of a better word), by and large, by hierarchical structures such as patriarchy, religion, and monarchy, for example. By ‘catering’ I mean that they were foundations and stepping stones for people to exist, grow & develop, express themselves, and self-actualisation. Carl Jung called it individuation. Without those structures to push off on all that other (existential) stuff becomes much harder to achieve although there might be other ways that Westerners have not yet fully explored and/or adopted.
The individual in orbit around culture …. its breakdown and security proffered by the rise of a new (opportunistic) popularism. American Christian Heritage confronted by democratic liberalism and retreat to end time religion advent, alternative truth and Trump prophecy politics.
It's worth reading.
Thanks, I'll take heed of your recommendation, but it will be tomorrow, by the looks of it.
While Queen Elizabeth was alive, any talk about NZ becoming a republic was usually low-key and contemplative. Nobody seriously thought there would be any change whilst the Queen was still reigning because it somehow seemed disrespectful.
Well I can't see any strong reason why the debate should not start now. There are several questions to be asked.
1: How relevant is the one thousand year plus British monarchy to New Zealand? What does it do that another system can't do?
2. Does history dictate the present? Just because a lot of our ancestors from Britain revered the monarchy does that mean we should too?
3. If we replace the British monarch as head of state, who do we replace him with and under what conditions?
What interests me about the debate is that it transcends the normal left-right political divide and makes for some quite startling results. I personally know a few quite left wing people who actually support the monarchy, and on the other hand some equally strong right-wing people who are republicans, although you would have to think that most conservatives would probably be monarchists.
The illusion of Great Britain being a "mother" country ended several decades ago and it is time we recognised that. It does not mean we can't have close relations with Britain but the relations will be based on today's events, not nostalgia.
For the record, I would support NZ becoming a republic with an elected president as head of state – something along the lines of the Irish Republic where the president's legislative powers are few and duties mainly ceremonial. I sure-as-hell don't want a presidency based on the US model.
This will be a debate for the next government, whoever it may be.
In our case the issue would be title – President or Rangatira (or Crown Rangatira).
I started as a anti-monarchist, and have slowly but surely come to view it as being a better political device than any other one that is known for maintaining and protecting state reserve powers.
That transition started after I was in the territorials when I realized just how useful the separation between armed forces and the military was. Specifically when Lange wanted to send SAS to Fiji during the middle of a military coup to deal with a hijacked aircraft – something that was just about as insanely dangerous (at a smaller scale) as Putin's decision as executive head of state to get the Russian Federation armed forces to invade Ukraine in 2022.
As Darien said, the NZ monarchy carries bugger all costs for NZ. But it provides a lot of useful political distance between our politicians, wannabe authoritarians, and the executive council directly accessing and wielding all of the crown powers residing in the police, armed forces, the justice system, civil defense, customs, treasury, etc.
It also works the other way as well because it means that it is far harder for any organised body to try to overturn the legislative position of Parlaiment.
It is pretty noticeable in reading this discussion that the advocates for removing monarchy haven't so far managed to put up a single argument that goes beyond talking about an expense that doesn't exist here, or what can only be described as a aesthetic wish for change for the sake of change.
Usually expressed as some kind of (WTF!) independence from colonial ties or wanting a extra vote for some reason. Try reading local republician sites and you get this level of fatuous fuckwittery as underlying 'reasoning'.
I'd hardly call that or anyone here actually making any kind of case for a reason for changing this part of our constitutional mix. What it sounds like is some recent members of a insecure migrant family wanting to cut nostalgic family ties to a homeland. Which for me is irrelevent.
I was born at least a 5th generation kiwi. Some parts of the European family migrants have been here since the 1820s with the whaling. Virtually all arrived before 1880 – 80 years before I was born. The bulk were here in the 1860s. Some parts of the family have been there for centuries before any european explorers arrived.
Socially I was born at the end of all of the imperial and dominion indoctrination. Well after we stopped reflexibly sending troops out for British imperialism like the Boer war or WW1. None of my living direct family had 'homelands' outside of NZ, not even my great grand parents.
While I don't give a pigs arse about the monarchy, I also don't care about stale political arguments that come out of the 18th century about how to form a functional democracy. It is pretty clear from many examples world wide that there are a lot of ways to screw that up. I can't really see point of changing a working constitional arrangement without a damn good reason.
I particularly don't care much about the views of recent migrant families think grounded in a history that I simply don't share. In my jaundiced view they and usually their kids seldom seem to exert enough effort to understand much about how this place actually works. Often don't seem to have a deep stake in making sure that it continues to keep on working. In my experience discussing this issue has been that the advocates for removing the monarchy are either young and playing with ideas, come from recent migrant families, or are interested in it for their own benefit.
What I want to know are the functional reasons for me and my widely extended New Zealand families to be interested in changing a constitutional system that doesn't look to be broken.
So far I haven't heard anything on that. Just repeating waffle waffle in arguments that I cut holes in 4 decades ago.
Because in the absence for a strong reason to do a large change, I’d always prefer incremental changes. It is way safer. That is what decades of reading about the downstream consequences of (often well-meaning) political idiots in history wanting large constitutional changes does for you.
After reading your post, I am even less inclined to vote for severing ties with the Monarchy, should that ever be put to the vote again.
As far as I am aware, there never has been a vote for severing ties with the monarchy. The nearest would have been Keith Locke's private members bill in 2010.
The NZLP has had a standing policy to hold a referendum since 2013. So do the Greens.
I tend to favor having a referendum for the same reasons that I wasn't against having a flag change referendum. It eliminates the problem for a few decades as people begin to understand the issues involved.
After all who would want another flag change after seeing the terrible choices that were made available last time. The level of first preference support for alternatives on the second referendum…. It met every expectation that I had of the likely outcomes of having a flag referendum.
That said, I suspect we’ll just keep muddling through using what we have, and at the same time shifting what it does and how it works. Change is inevitable. The trick is to make sure that the process keeps going on and we don’t get in the same kind of useless conservative dead-end that was NZ in the 1960s to 1984.
Yes. It is certainly the sort of issue that would need to be put to a referendum. And, I think a strong majority in favour should be required to justify taking that action. Given that there aren't really any large downsides to staying in the monarchy, then there should be a compelling majority to make the change.
Personally for something like this, I'd put a minimum required response as a proportion of those registered to vote. In fact that would probably be a good idea for all referendums to require a minimum percentage of enrolled voters to vote.
If you look at the turnout for the flag referendums, the voter enrollments for 2017 election was 3,298,009, for the 2014 election it was 3,140,417
The flag referendums were 2015 – 1,546,734 ie less than 50%, and 2016 – 2,135,622 – less than 60%.
Of course they weren't at the general election. The two referendums at the 2020 election got 2,908,071 out of enrollment of 3,549,580.
Basically there is a path to manipulating referendums by getting them held off outside general elections and getting a result bases on small majority of a small turnout.
"…or what can only be described as a aesthetic wish for change for the sake of change."
I think it could also be described as the politics of envy, in many people's minds. "They've got what I ought to have, if only I wasn't contributing to them having it." can keep people awake at night.
Also, the monarchy has always been there, so we can only imagine what life would be like without it and we always like to imagine something better than what we have now.
I don't buy either ideology.
Plus, if not for the monarchy, we'd all have to become Americans and I'd rather not.
Just the idea of electing judges and prosecutors makes my skin crawl. Or letting winning parties at the state level draw up boundaries for either state or national electorates.
The US is currently about the second oldest surviving republic and it shows all of the reasons why I wouldn't want a republic here. From the implicit effects of having the words of the dead from the 18th and 19th century guiding their basic laws. To the winning party takes all of the spoils approach to public positions like judges that would make the Mafia proud to have developed such a corrupting racket.
The last significiant amendment was in 1920, and that was to make it possible to have national legislation to release women from the vestiges of chattel slavery at the national, state and local level. After all supposedly the signature of the 18th century creation of the republic to not have taxation without representation (unless you were a woman or a slave of course) .
But I digress. Republics are a very old form of government, don't seem to be all that democratic to me when I dig through their history. Modern republics of the last few centuries don't look particularly different to me in their essence than the Athenian or Roman versions. They seem just as designed to degenerate into corrupt authoritarianism of being subjected after silly wars – usually mostly internal.
Thank you Iprent very interesting and informative posts. glad you are well again.
I prefer very much the Irish model, where the head of state has a largely ceremonial role, signing treaties, etc. Ireland seems to have thrown up a few outstanding heads of state with their system, which has more of the flavour of choosing a NZ Governor General, ie, someone greatly respected in public life.
One or more candidates are firstly nominated by either 10% of members of the bicameral government; or four or more of 31 county or city councils; or by themselves if they are an incumbent standing for a second term of 5 years. Often there has been consensus by the nominating bodies around a single candidate, therefore no election needed.
You need only compare this GG approach with the horror of a US presidential campaign, where populist candidates and billion dollar 'war chests' are wasted to get overly-powerful idiots like Trump running the nation badly.
That is good information. I could see something like this working for NZ.
I think it was Vivisubversa's post about the GG's value in balancing the PM, viz Lange's desire to send NZ army to Fiji, that brought up a very important point about how a NZ Head of State could function. I can see the value in having an independent arm of governmentat least able to open debate on such critical issues.
The Irish President behaves a lot like the British monarch, in that most political decisions about signing legislation into law, etc, are carried out on advisement of the government. The President's functions include
While all on advisement of government, there is the potential to act as a brake to overly-rapid rush into conflict, etc.
I certainly am not a rabid monarchist, and wouldn't be slitting my wrists if we lost the monarchy.
I guess my position is more of a "if it ain't broke why fix it" perspective.
My thoughts are that the monarchy is like a common historical thread that binds us like a family with other nations from the British empire. So, I guess I see it as a quaint relic from the past that has at least some symbolic value.
So, on balance, I would probably vote to stay as part of the Commonwealth if I had to vote. But, I wouldn't be hugely disappointed if the vote went the other way.
Most empire nations that no longer have the Crown as head of state are still in the Commonwealth.
The Irish “Taoiseach” said back in the 1990’s that Ireland would consider returning to the Empire/Commonwealth once NI was part of Eire.
Fair point. But, I still think I would want to see a really compelling reason to change before taking that step. I think while there is a significant portion of the population that still wants to remain as part of the monarchy, it probably isn't worth the strife and conflict to make the change.
In effect, we basically have become a republic anyway, and the crown is now just part of our ritual formalities. So, it doesn't seem to me that there is much more advantage in going the whole hog in that respect. Especially if it means upsetting a large portion of society.
I am a bit of a pragmatist in case you hadn’t worked that out lol.
Nicely put. Interestingly, it is the British monarchy which has held it all together since the time of Victoria. Nothing is going to stay the same forever but, in terms of modern history, the notion of the Commonwealth has served us well.
I will be watching because I love the pageantry and the historical links to a simpler world long gone. Sentimentality does play a strong role, just as we as individuals treasure those things that remind of us of our lost forebears including parents, grandparents and so on.
It is nothing to be ashamed of, but I appreciate the monarchy will certainly not last in its present form. However it may linger in a quite different and less conspicuous space for some time to come.
A sane loyalty to culture, history and all the symbols that represent these things, however slightly absurd or silly they may look to the rationalist gaze – are the threads that tie us together as a society.
Without that trusted narrative, and a sense of duty and responsibility to something larger than ourselves – we become isolated, exposed and ultimately unmoored, atomistic individuals, lacking direction and purpose.
But in time the loyalty will change and the trappings of the monarchy as it currently exists will become obsolete.
A Republic of Aotearoa NZ will happen in time, and I am a supporter of that.
But…for technical reasons at least, NZ’s Constitutional Monarchy needs to stay for a while longer until Tiriti issues and ongoing post colonial fallout are substantially resolved.
Believe it or not, New Zealand’s head of State is the Sovereign, King Charles III! The Governor-General is the King's representative in New Zealand. It was a slow march from Dominion status for this country.
Without a direct link to those who colonised and whose representatives signed Te Tiriti o Waitangi on behalf of Queen Victoria, things could get tricky indeed with likes of arch Māori bashers ACT sniffing around and wanting to despatch Māori seats.
How about we cut a deal.
Non-Maori will cut their links to the British Crown, if Maori drop all claims of their indigenous sovereignty.
Nice try Red, but you appear to have forgotten the <sarc> tag…
So it is only white people who are not allowed to have a history?/sarc
You assume, RedLogix, that NZ was settled by those British with a strong positive and nostalgic tie to the Crown. British settlers to NZ were 27% Scots and 22% Irish. You can bet almost all those Irish, and many of the Scots, had minimal respect for the Crown. They had very recent memories of the Potato famine and the Highland Clearances.
Of the British remainder, a significant portion were English agricultural labourers who migrated because of government persecution against rural unionisation. They came for a more equitable society.
There may have been lip-service to the monarchy, and the usual sentimental ladies who respond to pro-royalty puff pieces in magazines. But I imagine that last century, as now, most 1st generation migrants had little in the way of strong ties to the Monarchy. Pro-Empire and pro-Monarchy sentiment was probably ingrained in 2nd generation migrants by propaganda taught in schools and promulgated in the press.
Can we assume all Maori have strong sentimental ties to the hapu their family may have been descended from 200 years ago? I would suggest there is just as much diversity in their experience of history and culture as you rightly say there is across the non-Maori population.
But that is no grounds to for anyone to casually disrespect and discard their heritage into the dustbin of history.
I imagine many Māori have strong communal ties to traditional lands and assets that were bought out from under them, or appropriated by force or political chicanery from the Crown.
I have had the privilege of listening to a kaumatua, late at night pointing to the sacred mountain (Hikurangi pt 771) just across the valley from the marae I was at (Hia Kaitupeka to be precise) and patiently explaining to his ignorant young visitor the story behind it and why it was important to his hapu.
But connection to land is not unique to any one people. Personally I spend far too much time watching young people put up wonderful YT content of their tramps in the Southern Alps – which evokes in me tremendous yearning and homesickness.
But neither are these connections fixed in time or place. Those Irish or Scots who migrated to NZ, probably don't feel quite the same intense connection to their ancestoral lands as did their families when they first arrived here.
Same with many Maori who have migrated to the cities or overseas – or have the privilege of a mixed heritage across multiple cultures – time changes things.
There's a mountain of baggage in the phrase 'time changes all things'. Ideally, for the better for all citizens. If there is historical imbalance, with its cumulative effects, surely a just society addresses that.
Addressing past imbalances always runs the risk of creating new ones in the present, unless there is mutual respect and careful consideration on all sides.
Which well describes the Treaty settlement process to date.
Sorry, not last century, but C19th.
2040 would be a natural time to put a line under the Treaty of Waitangi and actually propose a new constitution for New Zealand.
One that includes:
We must surely be capable of thinking for ourselves. If we aren't capable of thinking for ourselves and trusting our own capacity for leadership, we immediately answer the question of whether we should have an alternative to the democratic monarchy we have.
All but your first point.
As you have said elsewhere, we are incredibly fortunate to have a relatively harmless, low cost, symbolic head of state already. Introducing Presidential style elections, in parallel with an existing Parliamentary structure strikes me as just adding another whole layer of personality politics on top of what we already suffer with.
In a relatively small, unicameral democracy the one thing we really need is a Constitutional mechanism that acts as a potential hand-brake on radical swings – regardless of direction.
By comparison the Australians constantly grizzle about their complex, slow and contradictory political system with it's shires, states, and two federal houses – but traditionally it has protected them from ideological excesses and kept them on a much steadier path than NZ.
If we are going to step away from the GG as the Head of State, maybe we could consider some kind of Upper House that was not so much elected, but appointed apolitically from the ranks of people with recognised public service and personal capacity – who had the power to review and recommend revision to the Lower House.
At the least it might a requirement for the PM to report regularly to this House or a delegated authority. I am all for reminding people in positions of high power, of their real status as servants of the people on a frequent, personal basis.
And lets call it the Legislative Council !
Been there, done that, notable mostly for its lack of success. The parliamentary website has a short well-written article about its history between 1853 and its suicide by partisan politics in 1951
Yes I was vaguely aware of that history, and I'm not claiming my suggestion was completely thought through – yet sometimes an idea doesn't take off just because the time is not right. And if we did step back from the Crown as Head of State – we might want to carefully think through an alternative balancing power.
Basically I agree with you on this – there is no compelling case for change and a lot of potential unforeseen downsides.
Australia looks from this distance that it has the kind of constitutional setup that is going to last them as they evolve into a proper middle-power realm with 30-40 million people.
New Zealand's constitution is suited to a small people who don't care about politics, muddle through rather than plan, and is shrinking not expanding the influence of its state either at home or abroad because it has interests that just aren't worth defending.
Sure – that may apply for Australian population. They have an empty continent.
But arguing on the basis of Australia is just avoidance of what is needed for NZ.
It really depends on what the forward demographics do because that detirmines what the requirements are.
We're currently at ~5 million. The current projections for 25 years away are at ~5.5-5.8 million in 2050 depending on immigration policy settings and in the lower 6+ million in 2100.
While average age of death roughly doubled in since the start of the 19th century in 'developed countries'. But the rate of increase has reduced markedly over the last 20 years.
In an era of lowering rates of world population growth, then making forward decisions based on the large increases in population isn't that useful.
BTW: I think that most of the population projections for Aussie are optimistic and unlikely to be realized.
They have a continent where most of its area verges on marginal climate habitability between water and climate variability. Everything that is currently known about future climate trends indicates that it will get significiantly more variable in climate and less habitable. It looks like it is more likely to reseamble the present day Sahara than it does today.
That is why their current population is mostly crammed up on the East coast. Currently about half is crammed into just three cities and ..
As Wikipedia puts it.
NZ has an urban area of 1-2% depending on how you define it. Most is habitable and farmable. Being islands in the midst of very large open ocean currents has far more buffering from climate fluctuations.
Irrespective of any link things rely on widespread acceptance of any governing arrangement….the alternative is conflict.
Thats as true now and historically as it would be as a republic.
Yes. If we can't even agree on the role Maori should play in the management of water resources, how on earth will we agree on their role in a new constitution? Also, there is an historically-justified strain of thought in Maoridom which sees their relationship with the Crown as a protection against any injustices perpetrated by the so-called settler state. What we have is a constitutional arrangement that works OK for now. In a very long time we have seen it go bad only once in our part of the world, with the ousting of Whitlam by his political enemies and the security services via the reserve powers of the Governor General. We are at arm's length from the absurdities of the extended royal family and the UK's ruling class, and when the royals visit here virtually no-one turns up.
I think risk aversion is the best approach at the moment – especially when we have climate change and economic inequality to worry about.
Well said AB
Really, when you think of all the truly pressing issues around for our government to deal with (climate change, economy, trade, housing, social services, equity, etc.) – why on earth would anyone want to waste time and political capital buying a fight over a constitutional monarchy which by-and-large delivers what we need, at a very, very low cost.
No one is arguing that any form of Republic would be 'better' in any meaningful way – it's all a (possible) symbolic benefit.
Sorry, I'd rather be implementing actual change that benefits the lives of real Kiwis in meaningful and measurable ways.
I find the monarchy cringe inducing, classist, gross and quite frankly the concept of hereditary leadership disgusts me.
That said, I'm not interested in having a debate about a republic anytime soon.
NZ is already far too angry and divided ATM , we can't have serious debates about water infrastructure, taxation or even speech without it getting extremely toxic.
A debate about a republic anytime soon would be so incredibly toxic and suck up all the oxygen in the room away from the real life problems like the housing apocalypse, cost of living, health and the environment.
Our politicians have proven they can't chew gum and walk at the same time and a republic will not build a single house, it will not make a single thing better for the people at the bottom.
And this is also a country that overwhelmingly voted against changing our hideous flag 7 years ago (ironically the labour party who has had changing the flag as official party policy since the 1960s leading the charge against just because a national govt was the one calling for change, also when you see the amount of millions thrown at vanity projects, abandoned projects and name changes by this govt it's pretty hilarious reading labour in 2015 saying the $27 mill was too much for a vanity project)
NZ is not ready for a debate about a republic and we sure as hell are too divided to have a debate about what kind of republic or constitution we would become.
NZ just needs to worry about housing, feeding and healing it's people and that's what poll after poll after poll says voters want
Let's face it, firstly, the flag choices were incredibly ugly. I was also put off by a Herald article, which rapidly disappeared from the website, never to be seen again. It reported Key meeting with an Auckland Chinese Association group of some sort, who stated they were very keen to get rid of the Union Jack on the NZ flag, because of British atrocities in the Boxer Rebellion! I'm not making this shit up! Not even sure if the group represented citizens or residents.
After that, I noted no Māori advocates for flag change, clearly because of the Crown involvement in the Treaty. And my opinion of Key, who reacted positively to their support for flag change, sunk even lower.
I have always loved the Hundertwasser flag since the moment I first saw it in the early 80's.
I see it as an inspired, deeply thoughtful representation of everything good about Aoteoroa. It had the symbolic potential to unify us as a people in a way none of the alternatives offered could.
I think as a nation we have yet to appreciate the gift this outsider, this remarkable man left to us.
I look at that flag and feel I good. It is bold, modern and evocative of Aotearoa New Zealand. Everything our current flag isn't.
There are so many things about our nation that frustrate me, and clinging to our monarchical, colonial ties is among them. We will end ties with the anachronistic, parasitical and irrelevant British monarchy, we will have a new flag, and we will hopefully have a real constitution (rather than the current piecemeal approach).
But why in AoNZ are these things so hard? Why are we so resistant to (inevitable) change?
One argument I saw put up here is that the monarchy provides added value as a tourist attraction. It might in the UK but clearly not here.
If the British want to retain their monarchy and fund it, it's their choice and I really don't care.
But I do care that our head of state is someone on the other side of the world that gained their role and accompanying prestige and wealth simply by accident of birth.
Not my head of state.
If there is one thing we might all learn from Maori is that allowing yourself to become disconnected, alienated from your cultural heritage is never a good idea.
It does not have to be an unchanging heritage, trapped in the amber of ages. It can be allowed to evolve and adapt to new circumstances – but rarely is it helpful to discard it wholesale.
Except if it's something to not be proud of, what then? Sorry, not buying it. Long past time to put it behind us.
We all have history we should not be proud of.
Yep that was me. But the subject matter wasn't really about NZ's role in the monarchial system, but rather whether there should be a British monarchy per se.
Princess Anne’s take on the monarchy. Solid, dependable and down to earth.
Your comment got me thinking that if NZ became a republic the flag would certainly have to change, keeping the existing one would be untenable.
But that would be a REAL reason to change the flag, not just because John Key thought it would be cool and so he could brag about changing the flag being one of his greatest political achievements.
But also that might be a reason why some New Zealanders would vote against becoming a republic in a referendum. (I think it will have to come to a referendum). It might come down to good old fashioned racial prejudice – they would do anything to keep Maori designs off the flag and let's face it – any new NZ flag WILL have Maori influence on it – as well it should.
I don't agree with the old hackneyed argument about why should we worry about becoming a republic when there are so many other worse problems to deal with….ya de ya de da….. Choosing our future political system is not an insignificant step and doing it right may well enhance our democratic structure and that is something we should always strive to do.
Probably the critical issue in all this, is what would the gossip rags do if there wasn't a monarchy?
There are always movie stars and pop singers to make stuff up about.
Personally, I am as interested in making any kind of oath or promise to a monarch as I am to a deity.
Write about the Kardashians….. as they already do.
Yes, it would be much slimmer pickings for the slime brigade.
The thing that the writer forgets, or likely never knew, about the house of Windsor is that it typifies a late monarchy, a very different thing from a dark age one, replete with wars of succession.
To understand what late monarchies are about, and their superiority over failing democracies teetering on the edge of despotism, like American Trumpistan, it might pay to read a little analysis from a late monarchist, of the then nascent American democracy.
Smart bloke, de Tocqueville.
In NZ, faced with the choice of two neo-liberal parties too spineless to address the major problems of the day, monarchy looks better every day – so only that none of the wretched rabble of contemporary MPs are deemed eligible.
Yes, late stage monarchy in the UK has been SO helpful in legitimising their shambles of a neo-liberal government.
Charles et al are not to blame for Brexit, nor for the greed and stupidity of the current government. Starmer, Murdoch, and the Guardian did much to prevent Labour exercising its role as a check on conservative folly. Similar forces have made Labour manque here, notwithstanding their unprecedented majority.
And yet QE2 was powerless to stop an illegal prorogue of Parliament by Boris Johnson that enabled Brexit, but exercised her right to opt out of general laws that should have applied to the Crown Estates.
What therefore, is the use of the British monarchy to balance the power of government if it rolls over to the government, even when it's acting illegally. Worse, the monarchy meddles in laws to suit itself, and still gets $86 mi from taxation per annum to meet costs, while earning a tidy extra income (with optional tax) from Crown Estates.
I have to admit the Guardian is pushing an anti monarchy message strongly, but it does make sense that it should be open to debate. Especially now that CIII carries over little goodwill in the family business from the powerful aura of his mother.
Pff – the monarchy is not to check the powers of government willy nilly – the proroguing was only found to be illegal after the fact.
It is not the monarchy's job to balance the follies of Parliament – that is the task of the loyal opposition – though 'loyal' scarcely describes that lying weasel Starmer and his accomplices.
The costs of monarchy are not our problem – though in the UK they keep up numerous conservation and historical assets. If royalty maintained NZ's conservation estate they might not have been so desperate as to resort to 'heroic' follies like1080.
The Guardian's hatred for monarchy doesn't really matter – their campaign of lies against Corbyn has denied British workers representation, and an alternative to the Conservative status quo for a generation.
Checking on the UK:
so get some new ones. derrrrrr
When moths work together they take down the trappings of power of the most high and mighty, even those with the divine right of the primates.
All hail, the Levellers.
blah blah blah. J. Pierpont Morgan opined that men give a good reason and then there is the real reason. Most anti monarchists can give a whole host of reasons to abolish the monarchy but at base it is pure personal envy or a misguided delusional adherence to the bankrupt ideology of the one party state.
The thing is that all and every nation that espouses democracy owes their existence to the creation of parliamentary democracy that evolved in England. over the ages. While it may be arcane and clunky it is still the case that every country has a head of state and the British monarchy is still the best bet so far in the history of the world notwithstanding the plethora of shonkey arguments to the contrary dreamed up by ideolgues and woolly headed nitwits that inhabit the ivory towers.
The English Parliament as a check on autocrat tyranny sure.
Notably there was no English translation of the Declaration of Arbroath until 1689.
Despite the parliamentary check on autocracy there came the Church of England and the national tyranny of Henry V111's independence from another's claim of God authority over nations/thrones. This led to all those not Anglicans being unable to go to university or serve in government – Test Acts (reducing the Irish to hedge schools).
And to this day a person born to rule, can only do so if they claim to be an Anglican (note how even a PM, Tony Blair, only came out as a Catholic after he left office).
Why exactly does the Crown head of state of our nation and the head of the UK and the Commonwealth have to be a Christian at all? Is it to infer favour of god to establishment authority over the people?
The so called architecture of the order out of chaos of human society (including male and female in equal numbers).
While there is benefit in the concept that those in power should be accountable to a higher authority, there is also a problem in that it can lead those of the Crown to presume they have the authority of God to reign and to rule (we know where divine right claims by royals and or their bishops lead – no right turn is the only valid response). Blasphemy laws and limitations over free speech in matters of religion/faith and worse – discriminatory profiling.
The alternative where all are equal under God, with or without faith in any established religion created by men, is true democratic human dominion sovereignty.
If the Church of England and its communion taught universal salvation fine – but they do not. And thus it is not a cult fit for democratic society, nor establishment in it, or over it.
Its fair to say Frankie's not a fan.
“King Charles recently spoke out on climate change. He said it was rare to hear such despair in young people’s voices… that aren’t coming from his brother’s bedroom.”
“To be fair, the royals are doing their bit to reduce emissions, by not flying the jewels they own back to the countries they were stolen from.”
With all the discussion of King Charles's coronation I am reminded of King William IV's coronation in 1831.
William IV loathed pomp and ceremony and the waste of money on such, and he preferred to scrap the coronation ceremony entirely and simply take the required oath. His royal advisors persuaded him to go through with it in the end but it was a very cheap low-key affair, in direct contrast to his predecessor George IV.
One story is that half-way through the ceremony William, bored with it all, grabbed the crown from an attendant, placed it on his head and said "now I am crowned" before his horrified courtiers persuaded him to go through with the rest of the ceremony.
Can't see Charles doing that!