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Chris Ford: Will, Kate and George gives us opportunity to discuss the monarchy's relevance

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford

This week's royal visit involving Will, Kate and George (or to you and me the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince George of Cambridge) gives me and others of a republican bent an opportunity to discuss the monarchy's relevance to New Zealand in the 21st Century.

I have blogged on a number of occasions about issues to do with republicanism and our national identity. I have long argued (as has the New Zealand Republican Movement) that this country needs to eventually sever its last remaining links with the British Crown. I find it anachronous that in the 21st Century, being the supposedly sovereign state we are, that we still ask a foreign monarch to be our head of state!

Therefore, what concerns me and many other republicans across the political spectrum is our continuing relationship with an archaic institution which is headquartered in London, not Wellington.

This institution, in its symbolic and actual state, does not represent the modern, multicultural New Zealand nation either. For example, you will notice that almost all of the Royal Family are white and upper class. However, there are a few exceptions in that Princess Kate herself hails from a middle class family who became fantastically wealthy due to owning a party hire business and Sophie, Duchess of Essex comes from a simiar background. I am also aware that Lady Davina Lewis (formerly Windsor) a distant cousin of the Queen and daughter of the Duke of Gloucester married a Maori guy from the North Island's East Coast (and former shearer) Gary Lewis. Apart from those exceptions, the Royal Family are not generally representative of the make up of the New Zealand population, let alone that of their British homeland.

The best way forward, in my view, is to replace the British Monarch as New Zealand's Head of State with democratically elected ones through popular referenda. I only hope that one of our brave, progressive Green or Labour MPs or even former New Zealand Republican Movement head Lewis Holden (if he enters Parliament for National after this year's election) will one day bring back former Green MP Keith Locke's bill calling for such a referendum soon after the conclusion of Elizabeth II's reign.

The death or abdication of the current monarch would provide such an opportunity as I do realise that Elizabeth II (after years of incessant Buckingham Palace-driven propaganda) is enormously popular or, at least, respected both in New Zealand and abroad. Her son and heir, Charles, is less so and it will be many years before his even more popular son and daughter-in-law can assume the throne.

I think that, given the Queen's current age and familial history of longevity (with the exception of her father and sister), she could be on the throne (if she chooses to) for another 10 years or so. If this transpires, it will give those of us who support republicanism in Aotearoa more time to make our case in advance of her possible abdication or inevitable death. I say this because I recognise that republicanism has the support of only 20 to 30 percent of New Zealand voters according to various polls conducted on the subject. Nevertheless, this is more support than republicanism has ever enjoyed in this country. I say this because I remember reading something written by the late left-wing intellectual, Bruce Jesson, about his participating in a protest against the Queen's and Prince Philip's 1963 Royal Tour to this country where he and only a handful of other sympathisers turned up.

Jesson's experience reminds me that the road to republicanism has been harder in New Zealand but is getting easier with time.

And while I realise there's going to be no rush to republicanism with this visit, there is no better time (and nor will there be) to raise the issue yet again. If we don't, then New Zealand is going to be one of the few independent Commonwealth nations (or in fact, one of the very few in the world) to continue to recognise a foreign-resident monarch as it's head of state. If that comes to pass, New Zealand will look like the last kid who refuses to leave home even though they're a fully fledged adult. In that scenario, I'd be emabarrassed.

So, my fellow Kiwis, the challenge is up to you - do you want to cut off the final apron strings or do you want to stay in some deep, historical embrace with an institution that means nothing to us now?

That's the question every Kiwi should be asking themselves in the next week and thereafter!




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