The Queen is dead and the captains and Kings have departed. Her death and the accession and coronation of King Charles the Third are defining moment in the lifetime of us all. This is so personally for many millions and constitutionally for the future of our country. There can be no doubt that the Queen’s personal popularity among those whom she touched in some way was unique in any sovereign anywhere in the world. The number of people of all ages and nationalities who queued for hours merely to walk past the coffin, get a glimpse, or merely be a member of a crowd is testimony to an extraordinary life of service. Testimony to this was the extraordinary gathering of world leaders assembled to mark the passing of one of their number the like of which we never expected to see again see again but has been repeated in the extraordinary historical pageant and mysticism of the Coronation.
Amid the grief and the celebration of a life well lived our Prime Minister, the leader of the opposition and of other political parties very properly acknowledged the deceased’s qualities. While doing so the Prime Minister and Mr. Luxon took no time in expressing the view that in their lifetimes New Zealand would become a republic. Unsurprisingly M/Ardern’s successor is of the same view and he crassly chose the occasion of the Coronation to which he is invited as a guest of the Monarch to join the chorus. Of course, the Greens and the Maori Party can be excused for voicing these views and embellishing them with stories about the horrors of colonialism and how to this day they are treated as second class citizens. We expect nothing else. Neither is it surprising that M/s Ardern would express such views given her pedigree as the World President of a Marxist political organisation.
What is less palatable to the millions of New Zealanders who will be or are contemplating voting for the National Party at the next election assuming it to be a “Conservative party” is to learn that the sheet anchor of our constitutional arrangements which has stood the test of time since 1840 will in the view of its leader be swept aside in the lifetime of many of them. To make this prediction, since partially recanted is not, be it noted an announcement of a referendum on the subject as have a number of other countries who currently recognise the Monarch as their head of state but a prediction which has no place in the philosophy of a Conservative political party.
At the heart of “conservatism” is the protection and preservation of all that is practical, helpful, and workable in maintaining and enhancing the liberties of the subject. Before the advent of the present government both major parties have committed themselves to this end and calls for the demise of the Monarchy as our head of state have been confined to the placard wavers, academics and the disaffected, in short, a tiny minority who are perfectly entitled to express their views, but which have no resonance with the general public. If we are to accept the views of the leaders of the two major parties, then it seems that they will be persuading their members to eschew the Monarchy in favour of some form of republicanism. It is therefore timely for conservatives to examine what if anything is practicable, useful, and workable about the present arrangements and what are the alternatives.
The usual proposal involving the replacement of a constitutional Monarch is to substitute a Republic presided over by a President. There are plenty of examples some of which have worked well. The Americans did it in 1789 and it survives to this day, somewhat tenuously given the rioting which accompanied President Biden’s accession to the office. The accompanying written constitution has survived with only 27 amendments.
In Russia a popular uprising overthrew the Tsar by violent revolution in 1917 and the provisional government was itself overthrown by Lenin soon after resulting in a succession of rulers with arbitrary powers which Mr. Putin is finding to his cost is not working so well.
Among these extremes is the more likely scenario that in New Zealand we quietly thank the Monarch for his service and in his place appoint or elect a head of state. Before doing so however we will need to decide if we want a “head of state” at all. In a democracy why not simply allow the Prime Minister of the day to occupy that role, after all heads of state do not appear to do much on a day-to-day basis apart from inherited ceremonials such as conferring honours on the worthy, inspecting the troops and signing bills put before them to create binding law. All of this could be done by a democratically elected Prime Minister and dispense with the fiction of some officer of State with “reserve powers” who can somehow protect the public from the machinations of politicians. But perhaps that is a step too far even for our radical academics and there will be concern among the public that they might be uneasy with such an apparently simple and sensible alternative to taking our orders from a Monarch given to fancy dress, talking in a funny accent and living in a castle some thirteen thousand miles away.
There is good historical precedent for such a solution for example to be found in the constitutional arrangements of most African tribes throughout their history, indeed Russia today where the word of the chief was and is all that is necessary to manage society generally to his benefit. It was always a “him” women playing no part in tribal constitutional arrangements. But let’s assume that such a proposal would not find favour with the LGBTQ+ brigade and the partially educated academics and that some sort of head of state is necessary to ensure that a maximum of diversity exists in our constitutional arrangements. We then arrive at something approaching a President as our head of state.
There are widespread precedents for this and let’s suppose we adopted something approximating to the American model after all it was chosen to meet a similar perceived problem. What to do with George the Third with whom they had fallen out of love over the question of taxation without representation.
The problem with most elected Presidents is that of necessity, they emerge from a political party with the inevitable result that they will always reflect and support the views of that party leaving the loosers disenfranchised for the duration of the presidency. Nowhere is this more evident than in the United States of America today. Gone is any general sense of tolerance and respect for the law and in its place is division that verges on hatred for the other side. The derangement that attends any mention of President Trump, who achieved some important policy initiatives but has an unusual personality and displayed his true colours at the chaos surrounding the last election. Then there is the scornful (but probably accurate) denunciation of the mental state of President Biden. Gone are the days of such widely respected Presidents such a: Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Reagan, and George Bush senior. If this trend continues, then the future of an American President standing above politics and representing any sort of cross party figure head uniting the country look grim indeed and it is not clear how these sort of partisan hatreds can be prevented. Rather it is looking increasingly likely that it is becoming a feature of this constitutional model for example Brazil, and France. The precedent is worrying.
Then there is the problem of corruption in office. Recent history is replete with examples of the criminal behaviour of Presidents. Peron made Argentina home for some of the worst German war criminals following the second world war and dressed his country with the swastika and black cross. Presidential elections in Venezuela and Brazil are mired in allegations of corruption. A prime example is Putin who has not only committed war crimes and crimes against humanity but is reputed to be the wealthiest person in the world all at the expense of the long -suffering Russian people.
Some of the Presidents of the former socialist Republics are little better. Then there is President Zi who has reduced his country to a communist dictatorship and is presiding over what is widely believed to be the extermination and slavery of the of its Moslem population. Iran, North Korea the list goes on. None of which inspires confidence in breaking with a thousand years of history and adopting this model of governance.
A Written Constitution
The matter is further complicate in New Zealand, courtesy of the present government and its dominant Maori caucus. In the unlikely event that this state of affairs continues after the next election we would first need to decide on the ethnicity of the newly appointed incumbent. Is it to be a Maori Chief (unlikely to be a chieftainess) which would reflect this tiny minority’s current view of the place of Maori people in our history and society and their view of the meaning and significance of “The Treaty.” This suffers from the additional problem that historically Maori tribes have not been, and are not, the best of friends and it is unlikely that there would be any unanimity in the choice of a President from their ranks.
Or would we appoint a person from the numerically dominant section of the population who may or may not have some Maori ancestory among other genes but, with regard solely to the qualities of the person, much like the present arrangements for appointing Governors General.
Or would we conduct a national plebiscite every few years at which the voting public gets to express its preference for the identity of the president and would such a plebiscite be conducted on the basis of one person one vote of equal value or would it be necessary to weight the voting in order to protect the rights of minorities. To adopt George Orwell’s Animal Farm solution would the votes of some of the pigs on the farm be worth more or less than others?
Before embarking on Republicanism in New Zealand we need to be very clear on this because the ethnicity path with its fabrication of the significance of the document signed in 1840 and the demonstrably fraudulent notion of “partnership” will likely present insuperable problems and lead to the further fragmentation of our society so successfully achieved to date by the present government.
The other alternative is to retain the existing arrangements of a constitutional Monarchy. But first a word about what it is and what are its roots. We draw our existing constitutional arrangements from those which have developed in England and later the United Kingdom over the last thousand years. There were earlier Monarchs, but it is convenient to begin with the Plantagenets and in particular Henry II who was crowned on October the 28th 1216. Given the state of public health in those time and the battles he fought he reigned for an astonishing fifty- six years. He is remembered not only for his epoch changing victories against the French on the battlefield but more importantly his understanding that in a realm which has no written constitution he needed to proceed in governing with caution. As Winston Churchill said of him in his History of the English- Speaking Peoples Volume I:
The King knew …as William the Conqueror had known that to lay a finger on the sanctity of customary rights would provoke disaster. Faced with this barrier, Henry shrewdly cloaked innovation in the respected garb of conservatism. He was careful to respect existing customs. His plan was to stretch old principles to take on new meanings. He was careful to respect existing forms.
In this way Churchill says:
His fame lives on with the English Constitution and the English Common Law.
That is the common law, adapted to meet changing circumstances which we enjoy in New Zealand to this day watched over by a Monarch.
So to be clear about what the leaders of both major political parties regard as inevitable is the passing up of our ability to continue to share in the continuing constitutional arrangements fashioned over a thousand years of history of the English-speaking peoples of which New Zealand is a part. Before doing so perhaps we should look at the advantages and disadvantages of our present arrangements.
Among the advantages are: The Monarchy embodies continuity. As we have recently witnessed when a monarch dies the first public proclamation is, as in this case, “The Queen is dead long live King Charles.” The succession is seamless, not even a coronation is needed to establish his position as head of state. No elections are necessary, no public voting on a range of candidates or messy infighting among self-seeking contenders.
Secondly under the unique settlement arrived at between Monarch and Parliament over the past five hundred years the Monarch is supreme but only Parliament can make the laws and except in rare cases the Monarch is expected to allow those laws to be enacted by signing what is a bill, not an Act of Parliament, into law. It remains constitutionally possible for the Monarch or his representative the Governor General to refuse to do so. It is known as the self- denying ordinance and as was widely rumoured such a refusal occurred during the Governor Generalship of Sir David Beattie when as the Queen’s representative, he declined to sign into law a bill presented to him by Prime Minister Muldoon imposing prohibitive and selective income tax rates. Whatever the truth of the rumour the bill was withdrawn.
A similar exercise of the prerogative power of the crown occurred in Australia when Governor General Kerr deposed Prime Minister Whitlam. Such cases are exceptional but in the case of such a long serving Monarch as Queen Elizabeth it is said, and never contradicted that any advice which she chose to give to Prime Ministers at their private audiences was carefully weighed before being rejected.
Associated with these reserve powers of the Monarch are a number of prerogatives for example: Declaring that the country is at war and calling out the armed forces thus depriving any demagogue (the likes of Putin perhaps ) the power of doing so. Importantly only the Monarch can dissolve a democratically elected Parliament on the request of a Prime Minister. Queen Elizabeth did so at the request of Prime Minister Boris Johnson when during the Brexit debate it became apparent that the Parliament was deadlocked and could not govern.
Other examples are the making of treaties and the issue of Royal pardons, so it is clear that the British Monarchy is not, as is the case in the case of some other European Monarchies merely a figurehead but a working part of our constitutional arrangements with a vital role to perform.
Stability is important in our lives and there can be no doubt that currently the most stable nations on earth are Great Britain, Norway, Sweden Denmark Holland, Spain, Japan, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. All are constitutional monarchies of considerable heritage and in none of those countries – although there are rumblings from time to time – is there any serious suggestion that they become republics.
Then there is the pomp and circumstance which attend much of the Monarch’s duties, easy to scoff at but nowhere better on display than at the lying in State and funeral of the late Queen and the Coronation of King Charles 111.
In the case of the late Queen anybody watching the response of the many thousands of well-wishers lining the streets and roads from Balmoral to Westminster can be left in no doubt that although accompanied by many tears it lifted the hearts of the nation in a troubled world. It afforded an opportunity for ordinary members of the public to put aside their own cares and rejoice in a life of utter devotion to their service.
Similarly with the coronation of King Charles . Although on a reduced scale and with more of a populist touch it too brought out many well-wishers. To watch the armed forces of all descriptions from the Royal Company of Archers to the Household cavalry in their dress uniforms, the Judges in full regalia and the ancient officers of state in their medieval uniforms, was to remind the British people, and by adoption citizens of the Commonwealth just what a long and rich history they enjoy. It is beyond imagining that any such a public display of affection and reverence of tradition could accompany the passing from office of a President or the anointing of a successor.
It is too simplistic to dismiss this spectacle and the comfort it affords to ordinary people as pointless grandstanding by an institution which has outlived its usefulness. It is not and it has not. People crave continuity and certainty in their lives and in their institutions.
Of course, if some practice cannot answer the demands of contemporary society, it must be changed. That is what Conservatives do – they cherish and refurbish the well-worn paths that lead where they need to go and forge new ones when they have become impassable. The English historian Robert Tombs summed it up recently:
The Monarchy has given up most of its functions, but it has retained the most fundamental of all: as head of the nation and the state. The state is thus not identical with the government or Parliament. Crucial elements are kept at arm’s length from politics. The Judiciary, the police, the civil service …. owe their allegiance to the Crown not to a political party. Most importantly of all the armed forces have strong personal links with the Royal family.
Finally, a word about the character of British Monarchs in more modern times. They are born to the task and imbued with its fibres from birth. Apart from Edward the eighth, a traitor to the British people who for his own ends sought to make an accommodation with Adolph Hitler the like of which has not been seen since King John, they have given exemplary service according to the customs of the day. Queen Victoria reigned for fifty years much of it as a widow in mourning and in that time presided over the greatest expansion of Imperial power the world has ever known. In 1940 with the German troops gathering in the waters off the coast of Holland for Hitler’s “Operation Sealion,” the invasion of England supported by the boast of Herman Goering, the Marshall of the German air force, that he would dispose of the Royal Airforce within ten days, the grandfather of the present Monarch, George the Sixth was offered the opportunity to escape to Canada with his family. He refused to leave the British people to their fate notwithstanding the near disaster of Dunkirk and the certain knowledge that a successful invasion would have resulted either in his death or some ghastly freak show of being paraded through the streets of Berlin. It is difficult to imagine any President acting with such dedication to public duty. It is no surprise that it is Winston Churchill’s dogged refusal to surrender to the German dictator is that adopted as the shining example by President Zelensky in inspiring the people of Ukraine to stand against the Russian bear.
Approaching the question of turning to Republicanism or keeping the existing constitutional arrangements as a “Conservative” the question is, what benefit does the New Zealand public get from abandoning a thousand years of a system of government coupled with the Rule of Law which has constantly evolved to meet the demands of the time and continues to do so? Should a New Zealand government test the waters with a referendum on the matter in the present fractious political climate, which has elevated the ethnicity of a few above the rest into a tribal stalking horse to mark the destruction of our democracy. I would expect the vote for the status quo in a referendum question “Should New Zealand continue to recognise the British Monarchy as its head of state” – would be an overwhelming YES. Teetering as we are on the brink of tribal Marxism should this government be returned to power I can think of no worse a time in our history to be considering abandoning the Monarch as our head of state.
Republicans take heed. What you are proposing will be a disaster for the survival of our democracy and way of life with the ethnically self-appointed few dictating to the many without any constraint.