Garth George: Object to titles? Then you, Sir, are a fool

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You read it here first. Back in May of 2007, 18 months before the last election, I predicted a comprehensive National win and suggested that one of the things a strong National-led Government could do is restore titles to those whom we honour twice a year.

A month or so later, when I met him for the first time, Prime Minister-to-be John Key told me he rather favoured the idea and might just do something about it.

Then in October last year, only a week or so before the election, he made it known publicly that it was certainly on his agenda to restore the titles Sir and Dame to those who head our honours lists.

And now, bless him, he has made it happen. Needless to say I, and many hundreds of thousands of other New Zealanders, are delighted.

Some silly people, of course - and they are a small minority - complain that the restoration of titles is, as one letter writer put it, "out of touch with contemporary New Zealand".

That is arrant nonsense. A Herald poll this week asked, "Is the return of knights and dames in the NZ honours system a good move?" and the response from 3832 New Zealanders was a thumping 76 per cent "yes".

There are those, too - and Helen Clark (remember her?) is among them - who reckon that, as she put it before the election, "The use of aristocratic titles is outside of the Kiwi value system".

Nonsense, again. The titles we confer today have nothing to do with aristocracy and everything to do with the regard in which we hold some of our number and having a convenient way to distinguish them.

How many of the ONZ recipients of the past eight years can you name? Not many, I'll wager. The media are disinclined to publish letters after people's names, but will invariably use a title.

Thus are we constantly reminded of those on whom we have deservedly (and not infrequently undeservedly) bestowed mana for what is perceived as outstanding national service.

Think Sir Edmund Hillary, Sir Peter Blake, Sir Wilson Whineray; Sir James Wattie, Sir James Fletcher; Dame Ngaio Marsh, Dame Anne Salmond, Dame Whina Cooper - New Zealanders who live and will continue to live in our memories, and easily so because of their titles.

Another silly argument is that we should not restore titles because Australia, Canada and other Commonwealth countries don't use them. My answer to that is: Who the hell cares what Australians and Canadians do or don't do? We are secure enough to make our own choices, surely.

And that's the nub of it. Those who object to the use of Sir and Dame reveal their insecurities, seeming to believe that such things show us to be somehow subservient to Britain.

Among them are, of course, the republicans, whose periodic outbursts speak more of anti-royalty than of the semblance of total independence that the proclamation of a republic might bring.

Which ignores the fact that, politically, we are totally independent now and all we would achieve is to swap a president for a governor-general.

They seem to believe that a republic would confer the ultimate egalitarianism, yet there is no republic in the world where that is the result. Egalitarianism is an impossible concept, not the least in a country where a fifth of the population lives in poverty and 90 per cent of private wealth is in the hands of 10 per cent of the people.

Proclaiming a republic - which we will no doubt eventually do and for all the wrong reasons - would change nothing - politically, socially or in any other way. If the way our nation operates works, why try to "fix" it.

The silliest argument of all is that expressed first by a couple of ONZs, who whinged that the Government should be concentrating on, as one of them put it, "saving us from economic ruin" rather than tinkering with the honours system.

Heaven help us if we are so sunk in materialism that all we, and our Government, can think of is money, money, money, and that the Government becomes so absorbed in economic and fiscal matters that it ignores all the other things that contribute to our quality of life.

In any case, we are nowhere near "economic ruin". Considering what is happening elsewhere in the world, we are doing fine, and as long as we exercise prudence and good stewardship, we will come through relatively unscathed.

After nine years of stifling socialism, John Key's Government is a breath of fresh air. Its moves to save jobs and bolster business, to shake up ACC and to privatise prisons, along with the restoration of titles, are all strides in the right direction.

If they succeed, this Government's leaders, too, will deserve the title of Sir or Dame.

- NZ Herald

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