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Paul Thomas is a Weekend Herald columnist

Paul Thomas: NZ likely to follow Aussies down the republican road

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Will Prince William come to New Zealand and the World Cup for his honeymoon? Photo / Herald on Sunday
Will Prince William come to New Zealand and the World Cup for his honeymoon? Photo / Herald on Sunday

Our monarchists may have mixed feelings over the prospect of Prince William and Kate Middleton honeymooning in New Zealand during the Rugby World Cup.

A British bookmaker has New Zealand at 20 to one, with talk of a summer wedding encouraging speculation that rugby fan William might seize the opportunity to get more bang for the taxpayers' buck, so to speak.

Absent from this speculation is any discussion of whether the bride-to-be's idea of a romantic getaway includes watching a violent collision sport.

Presumably she has already grasped that such is the lot of a future consort.

While monarchists would be giddy with excitement at having them here, they should remember that when William watched the British Lions play the All Blacks in 2005, he wore a Lions jersey.

The sight of the future King of New Zealand cheering against the All Blacks in a World Cup knock-out game at Eden Park might cause some Kiwis to ask themselves: what's in it for us?

Although monarchists have a range of arguments explaining why the monarchy is neither an anachronism nor a bludge, these tend to be tactical rather than from the heart.

They dislike having to deny that the monarchy is archaic and British and based on bloodlines because deep-down those are the very things they love about it.

They insist that the system has delivered political stability, the implication being that our leaders can't be entrusted with ultimate responsibility: in a crisis the British monarch, a figure above politics and endowed with the prestige and gravitas of an institution dating back to the 9th century, would exercise superior judgement than a home-grown head of state.

Nor do monarchists, who fear the mob, have a problem with privilege and responsibility being conferred on the basis of birth.

When the British authorities were agonising over whether Prince Harry should serve in Iraq, the Monarchist League of New Zealand declared that he shouldn't go because "he's not just any ordinary democratic citizen".

The genius of this statement is that it was said with approval, yet it encapsulates the case against the monarchy.

This wedding may be the calm before the storm. Having been out-manoeuvred in the 1999 referendum, Australian republicans are biding their time.

As Prime Minister Julia Gillard has flagged, there won't be another push while Queen Elizabeth remains on the throne. After that all bets are off.

The Queen is 84 and will become a great-grandmother next month, but her surefooted reign adds a veneer of substance to the fantasy that only the monarch stands between us and anarchy.

When the monarch is Charles III that proposition will become a much harder sell, even though he'll be far from the first weirdo to ascend the throne.

No doubt the ground will then shift. Instead of the monarch being the guarantor of stability, we'll be told his battiness is neither here nor there because the position is essentially ceremonial.

Monarchists are nothing if not adaptable: when William and Kate split up a couple of years ago, the aristocracy and their media lackeys were pleased to see the back of "Middle-class Middleton".

Now she's hailed as "the fair rose of Middle England", and favourably if obliquely compared with her fiance's flighty mother and the thunderously gauche Duchess of York.

Where Australia goes with regard to the monarchy, we're likely to follow since it's difficult to imagine any scenario in which it would be sensible or dignified for us to cling to a constitutional model whose days were clearly numbered.

But it's far from certain that another referendum sometime during the next decade will deliver change.

The republicans will strive to avoid the mistakes of 1999, assembling a broad-based cross party coalition - as opposed to what was seen as a vehicle piloted by the metropolitan elite - and uniting it behind an uncomplicated, appealing model.

It sounds simple, especially as polls consistently show a clear majority in favour of a republic.

The devil is in the detail. In 1999 the monarchists cleverly exploited the illogic of criticising the monarchy as un-Australian and undemocratic while proposing to replace it with a head of state appointed by politicians rather than chosen by the people.

They were equally effective at playing on the anxiety of instinctive republicans who were - and probably still are - uncomfortable with the idea of a head of state groomed and backed by a political party.

Even if they get the formula right, it will still require approval from a majority of voters in a majority of states, which is why only eight of the 44 referenda in Australian history have resulted in a change to the status quo. The republicans will need all the help King Charles can provide.

- NZ Herald

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