Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Time to divorce the House of Windsor


The wedding of Prince William is half a year away and already my colleagues, in what used to be known as the women's pages, are agonising about the wedding dress and how to curtsy and what gift his grandma's loyal subjects in New Zealand should give him.

The last one is easy. Give him his freedom.

Tell him he doesn't have to borrow a feather cloak from the Buckingham House collection, and go through the embarrassing pantomime - for him and us - of preparing for his days as lord and master-to-be of a far away cluster of South Seas islands.

Tell him he's off the hook, and to show we mean it, he doesn't have to cheer for the All Blacks when he's on New Zealand soil.

In a recent speech, former deputy prime minister Michael Cullen came out as an ever so reluctant convert to republicanism. Old academic and traditionalist that he is, the address was an agonising twisting and turning of reasons why and why not cutting the imperial apron strings was a good idea.

To me there's a simple and obvious reason. It makes no sense for an independent nation on one side of the globe to have as its head of state the hereditary head of an English farming family, who just happens also to moonlight as head of the Church of England.

Quaint? Perhaps, but also embarrassing to those of us who feel no loyalty to Britain, their royals, or their Established church.

Hands up everyone who has a quiet snigger - OK, a loud guffaw - at the sight of King George of Tonga, all toffed up in his replica British royal regalia, processing around his tiny kingdom in the back of his ceremonial London taxi cab. It's so silly, and the king is said to be an otherwise intelligent man, that you can't help thinking he's just very bored and the joke is really on us.

But deliberate prank or not, at least King George is a home-grown monarch living in his own indigenous fantasy land. How much weirder it must look to the rest of the world to see another Pacific Island nation, one claiming First World status, going one step further and using, as absentee head of state, the hereditary monarch of a land half a world away.

The wedding hysteria that is slowly building in local papers, magazines and television, underlines the need to get on with the process of divorcing the Windsors before Queen Elizabeth, the only monarch most New Zealanders remember, dies.

As Dr Cullen says, there's no need to cast the present monarch on to the scrap heap precipitately. But there certainly is a need to put in place an ordered and agreed form of succession for when she dies. One that specifies the Windsor dynasty's reign over New Zealand dies with her.

If we leave it until then, worried we might be hurting her feelings by discussing the issue before she goes, nothing will get done.

The celebrity publicity hoopla surrounding Prince William's engagement is a warning of what will happen when the Queen dies. The news media will be bulging for weeks with nostalgia for the good old days. Political leaders will jet off to London to join the glittering ceremonial send-off.

They'll pay their regards to King Charles and Queen Camilla, tug their forelocks, go all weak at the knees and if the escape plan is not already in place, the Windsors will be back happily reigning over us and we'll never get rid of them.

Or to put it in Dr Cullen's more polite turn of phrase, not having a succession plan already in place "would obviously lead to an unnecessarily pressured situation ... since the British would have declared Charles king immediately on her death".

Sensibly, Dr Cullen is proposing a minimalist approach to the matter of a replacement. Instead of agonising, as those steeped in constitutional law have been doing, about a whole new structure, incorporating the Treaty of Waitangi and so forth, he suggests "the new head of state should have the same powers as those currently exercised by the Governor-General". He suggests the existing G-G would stay in place on the death or incapacity of the Queen, until the choice of a new head of state has occurred.

He also suggests that if, as he proposes, the new head of state has the same powers as the existing G-G, exercised as now on the advice of ministers, then the appropriate method of selection "would be by some kind of super majority of Parliament".

However, he worries this formula "may just be too simple for those whose life and living revolve around being complicated".

Hopefully not. The present structure works well. It's just the personnel involved. We've lived with an overseas-domiciled, ceremonial head of state for many years. All this would do is repatriate the position. What could be simpler?

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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