Should the new prince born today be long to reign over us? Or should he never inherit the throne? I confess the question's thornier than I thought
The front pages have been fun: The Sun retitled itself The Son. The Daily Mirror went with the cutesy 'Our Little Prince'. The Daily Mail has fun with Prince Charles saying 'Oh Boy! One's a Grandpa'. (They're all here). But what does a new royal heir mean for us in New Zealand?
I've long assumed myself a republican as someone who wants to grow and expand New Zealand's sense of nationhood and independence. Our pioneer ancestors started, as James Belich has written, trying to be Better Britons. We were psychologically and politically part of Europe. But that faded through the 20th century. We have swung in behind the United States (only to pull away and then tack back) and in 1996 Jim Bolger became the first PM to declare New Zealand was part of Asia. In this same generation we've discovered the South Pacific and embraced our Polynesian roots.
We are a country, quite simply, whose history has been overcome by our geography.
That's largely been seen as a good thing - as growing up and cutting the apron strings. But when I did my study into our constitutional arrangments back in 2006 one of the thoughts that hit me was where our European roots and traditions sit in this evolving country of ours.
I'm a fan of a small and nimble written constitution; one of the reasons being that I want to preserve the best of our European liberal rights and traditions against the sometimes corrosive forces of history.
And that's at the heart of why I wonder whether I'm still much of a republican at all. We've just dug into this for our monarchy v republic debate on The Vote and I found the monarchist arguments more compelling than I expected. The easy line is that "it ain't broke". So why change? The better line is to say that it's served us remarkably well and offers a constitutional stability and dispassionate head of state that shouldn't be taken for granted.
While Bolger, Helen Clark and John Key have all opined that it's "inevitable" that New Zealand will one day ditch the monarchy, I'm no longer so sure. 'The Firm' has proved quite adaptive, Charles and Camilla are running a pretty tight ship these days and doing everything possible to make the Prince's second wife acceptable to the wider public (could she be any more offensive than Prince Phillip?) and Wills and Kate are winning over a new generation with their faux 'we're just like you' schtick.
I understand the fakery of it all. It's mad to appoint people to any job, let alone this one, by the fortune of birth. It's anti-meritocracy. This is a mega-rich, elitist family that stems from Germany via London and has little relevance to modern New Zealand. Our head of state reflects the politics of the 1500s more than our century. The prejudice is there in statute - the monarch of New Zealand has to be Anglican. And let's be real, while it's not technically impossible they'll marry a Hindu or Muslim or someone of African descent, it's about as likely as me becoming President of New Zealand!
I get all those arguments. And yet...
The current system works. While you'd never choose it, there is value in having some distance and dispassion when it comes to a head of state. Not to mention heritage and a way of behaving well founded in convention.
The Queen spends her entire life, from a New Zealand constitutional point of view, waiting in the wings, just in case. Of course that's mostly a fiction. She acts on advice from the government and legal expertise. But it's a useful fiction that separates powers. The person who gets to ref any constitutional crisis would not be caught up in their own history or sense of New Zealandness.
I mean, how would Keith Holyoake or Cath Tizard have handled a real crisis given their political allegiances? I know they'd take advice and step back and think beyond themselves and so on. And yet... Is it better to have a referee who's never been in the game at all?
What's more, part of me wants to protect those enlightenment values we brought with us from Europe in this post-colonial, globalised, money-obsessed world. And oddly enough, this elitist, prejudice institution might just have a part to play. Remember, the magna carta is part of our constitution too, in part because of that system. Does our commitment to the Bill of Rights and other protections diminish if we go republican? Not in the short-term, but is there a risk further on as our geography becomes more dominant? There's not the same tradition of those rights in the Asia-Pacific region.
Then there's the privy council argument. You know, the one that goes 'we gave up access to the best legal minds in the world (and the clarity of distance) for the sake of our national ego'. Of course the virtues are greater than that, but you'd be foolish to ignore the truth in that argument. And it has more sway with the question of a New Zealand President. Sure, we can name one or two suitable ones. But do we have a talent pool deep enough to replace our head of state every five years?
And I was intrigued to learn we in New Zealand don't pay a cent for the monarchy's upkeep - just the bill for the Governor-General and the trips down here. It's the British taxpayer who has to pay a million pounds so Kate and Wills can rennovate Kensington Palace for their new prince.
So I'm more torn on this issue than I have been in the past. But is a New Zealand republic inevitable? I don't think so. The argument is still very much alive.
After The Vote, we got emailed a posted - 'Keep Marm and carry on'. Very clever. I'm not sure I'm entirely signed up to that, but I can certainly see more value in that argument than I have before.