Sixty Glorious Years: But Elizabeth Windsor was not born to be Queen. Indeed had her wicked uncle, Edward VIII, been just a little cleverer (and a lot wickeder) England may well have been burdened with a royal fascist dictator. Such are the fatal vagaries of the hereditary principle. Heads-of-state should be chosen by more rational - and democratic - means.
A LOATHING OF MONARCHY is one of the many benefits of living with an avid student of Tudor history. You learn about the huge political, economic and social costs of hereditary rule. How utterly dependent society becomes upon the health and fecundity of royal fathers and mothers. Of the dangers posed to political and social order by physically and mentally deficient monarchs. And, most especially, of the horrors and injustices to which royal personages and their families are exposed on account of the constitutional principle of hereditary succession.
To which all you monarchists out there will smugly reply: “Just as well, then, that our Queen is a constitutional monarch.” Well, if you want to comfort yourself with that notion, feel free. But if you believe the “conventions” of constitutional monarchy offer us the slightest political protection, then you are quite mistaken.
Take our present sovereign, Queen Elizabeth II. When she was born very few people believed she would inherit the throne. Her uncle, Edward, Prince of Wales, was heir apparent and was duly proclaimed King-Emperor upon the death of his father, King George V, in 1936. We are all extremely lucky that Edward VIII was nowhere near as clever as he was selfish, vain and irresponsible. Had he been as smart as his youngest brother, George, the Duke of Kent, he could well have turned the constitutional crisis arising out of his determination to marry Mrs Wallis Simpson into an opportunity to establish a fascist monarchical dictatorship. He would certainly have been able to count on a great deal of public support, not to mention the solemn oaths of loyalty sworn to his person by the armed forces and the police.
Democracy’s stocks were not very high in 1936, and the Windsor’s connections with Hitler’s Nazis were much stronger than they now care to admit. The Duke of Kent, in particular, moved freely in the highest Nazi circles. He was convinced that the British Empire could not survive another war with Germany. had he ever been in a position to do so, he would have guarded Germany’s back while she demolished the Soviet Union, and thereafter remained confident of her support against the economic ambitions of the USA. It is not difficult to understand why the German Ambassador to Great Britain, Joachim von Ribbentrop, kept in such close touch with both the Duke of Kent and Mrs Simpson.
Dangerous Liaisons: Wallis Simpson and the former King Edward VIII are welcomed to Germany by Adolf Hitler.
Had King George VI named Lord Halifax, and not Winston Churchill, prime minister in 1940, exactly the same calculations that made life for the surviving members of the Plantagenet dynasty so precarious during the reign of Henry Tudor would have been made about both himself and the little princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret. For there is no disputing the fact that, in the first six months of the war, a substantial “fifth column”, committed to making peace with the Nazis, florished in Britain – especially among the aristocracy. A negotiated peace with Germany could very easily have seen Edward VIII restored to the throne – leaving the erstwhile King George and his family to the tender mercies of a triumphant Adolf Hitler.
So, we are, indeed, extremely fortunate that Edward VIII was not equal to the many political opportunities that came his way. And, by “we” I certainly refer to New Zealand. Because you may be absolutely sure that if Great Britain had signed a peace treaty with Germany in mid-1940, our own government, and the governments of Canada, Australia, and South Africa, would have ceased hostilities immediately. And if, in a fit of madness, Peter Fraser had attempted to carry on the fight (counting, perhaps, on help from the United States) then it is certain that the new King-Emperor’s representative in New Zealand, the Governor-General, Viscount Galway GCMG DSO OBE PC, would have dismissed the Labour Government from office and invited the National Party leader, Adam Hamilton, to form a new ministry.
This is, of course, a very long way from the version of constitutional monarchy peddled by Dr Sean Palmer, Chair of Monarchy New Zealand, who shills for the hereditary principle on the grounds that it offers a much more stable foundation than popular election when determining a nation’s head-of-state.
His argument boils down to a recitation of those mostly European countries whose heads of state are kings and queens. Do you see how stable and non-threatening Norway, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands are? asks Dr Palmer. That has nothing to do with the democratic character of their politics, the homogeneity of their populations, or the pluralistic nature of their societies. No, no, no! It’s because their heads-of-state were raised to that office not by virtue of their talent, their courage, their generosity or their contribution to their fellow human-beings, but because they were clever enough to choose royal parents.
This is the same Dr Palmer who told Radio New Zealand’s Queen’s Birthday host, Richard Langston, that his homeland, Canada, and New Zealand had very similar constitutional arrangements. I suppose you could make out a case for that proposition – providing, of course, you set aside the fact that Canada has a written constitution, a bi-cameral parliament and a federal system of provincial governments. Apart from these small and inconsequential constitutional differences, Canada and New Zealand are practically identical!
We are, however, alike in being ruled over by a Governor-General (when Her Majesty isn’t going walkabout) and so I would have expected a constitutional expert, like Dr Palmer, to have had something intelligent to say about the Canadian Governor-General, Michaelle Jean’s, egregious failure to uphold the principle of parliamentary sovereignty.
Egregious Failure: Canada's unparliamentary sovereign, Governor General, Michaelle Jean.
Her 2009 decision to prorogue the Canadian House of Commons, thereby preventing it from debating a No Confidence motion in the Conservative Government of Stephen Harper, was made in defiance of the near unanimous opinion of Canada’s leading constitutional experts. Like the Australian Governor-General, John Kerr’s, decision to dismiss the Whitlam Labour Government in 1975, Jean’s abrogation of democratic norms lays bare not the stability, but the capriciousness, of “constitutional” monarchies, and demonstrates how extremely vulnerable their “subjects” are to the anti-democratic proclivities of these unelected heads-of-state.
All constitutional questions turn on the direction in which one believes power ought to flow: from the top to the bottom; or from the bottom to the top? It is quite impossible to cast monarchical institutions as anything other than top-down and, hence, profoundly undemocratic.
The “honours” announced to mark the sixtieth anniversary of Elizabeth Windsor’s coronation, provide stark proof of just how corrupting service to such monarchical institutions can be. In addition to a union-buster and a neoliberal hatchet-woman, Prime Minister Key has announced that the Duke of Edinburgh, Phillip Mountbatten, the man the late Chris Hitchens memorably described as “a dingy fascist”, has been made a member of the Order of New Zealand. Worse than this, however, was the news that Dr Michael Cullen, the man who taught me about the Levellers and the Diggers, Oliver Cromwell and the Putney Debates, has accepted a knighthood.
I felt a great wave of shame wash over me on his behalf. Could this be the same man whose university office once boasted a full-size poster depicting humanity’s putative parents above the revolutionary slogan of the English Peasants Revolt of 1381?
May my vanity and pride never play me so false, Dr Cullen. Rather, let me invoke on this, Queen's Birthday holiday weekend, the spirit of Oliver Cromwell’s plain, russet-coated troopers; whose contribution to human liberty a younger Michael Cullen once kept fresh; and cry out again, with a great voice:
“Long live the Republic!”
This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.