Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Charles in charge

It wasn't all that long ago that Aotearoa looked like a nation that women were running. We had a female Prime Minister (Helen Clark), women as Governor General (Dame Sylvia Cartwright) and Queen (Elizabeth II), ladies sitting in the chairs of Chief Justice (Dame Sian Elias) and Speaker (Margaret Wilson).

Most of these women were amongst the first females to fill these roles, and with the exception of Her Majesty and Madam Chief Justice the jobs are now back with the boys. Which leads me to consider the next job that might change hands and revert to a man, that of the sovereign of our nation.

Charles as King seems so weird to me that it’s hard to even type the words. Elizabeth’s on all our money. That iconic picture of her with blue sash and crown is framed and hanging in all our RSAs and bowling clubs. King’s Service Medals, King’s Birthday, the King's English; it just all seems wrong.

Charles has been so neglected by the media since his marriage to Camilla (and rightly so imho) that when I think of the next monarch I think of Wills, not his father. I can’t be the only one.

I was playing Articulate with a group of friends a few months ago and trying to explain Port William; when I invoked Prince William in my aid I said “heir to the throne” and no one said Charles. It’s almost as if we are looking to the next generation already, when poor Charlie’s time has not yet been. Charles the Unnoticed shall perhaps be his moniker in our histories, if we remember him at all.

It could be a long time after Elizabeth II before we see another Queen. The republic may come for us in the Antipodes, and for those in Britain even, before that happens. In the first instance whether we have a Queen again will depend on what offspring, if any, William produces. If his eldest child is a daughter I’d hope that there would be significant pressure for her to reign after him; that we might see a future monarchy that is still based on the absurdity that someone’s genetic heritage is the most important indicator of their worth as a wealthy figurehead, but at least doesn’t demand that those with a Y chromosome are more suitable than those without.


Lewis said...

Well said Julie. A link is in the wings.

Psycho Milt said...

I don't understand the idea that the monarchical succession should skip Charles because people like his kids better. If you have a monarchy, well, it's a monarchy - the heir to the throne is the current monarch's eldest child. If you have a popularity contest for head of state, it's called an election and the winner is usually president of a republic or something along those lines, not a King.

In other words, if we want a say in who gets to be head of state, we actually want a republic and we should acknowledge that fact. And if we're happy with a monarchy, we'd also better be happy with the rules of that monarchy being applied when the current monarch snuffs it.

Anna said...

I see where Psycho is coming from. Monarchies are pretty much arbitrary by definition (by my pro-republican standards at least).

Arguing for women to be more fairly represented within the monarchy would be trying to add a rational gloss to a system which is fundamentally irrational - to say nothing of the (misuse) of public money it entails.

Psycho Milt said...

On the plus side for female representation in the monarchy, women live longer. So you may not get as many queens as kings, but the ones you do get are much harder-wearing than your whiskey-swilling Berties or fascist-sympathising Eddies. Look at the last 200 years - plenty of kings and only two queens, but those two...

Lucy said...

to say nothing of the (misuse) of public money it entails.

IIRC, the Queen actually owns quite a lot of England in her own right - in the UK, when you're paying "the Crown" rent, it isn't a euphemism for the Government. The question is more whether we like one person owning quite so much of the place. Yes, it's *technically* public money, but it's public because her family owned it in the first place. And on a more prosaic note, heads of state are always expensive, because ceremony is expensive. Except possibly for the Dutch royal family, who are well-known for biking everywhere.

Look at the last 200 years - plenty of kings and only two queens, but those two...

To be fair, though, that happened because Mad King George III lived for a very long time, then by the time his sons got to the throne, they were all old, so they popped off in quick succession - leaving the next heir as a young daughter of one of them (Victoria.) Then *she* lived for ages, leaving the same thing to happen to her heir and his immediate descendants - until they gradually got back to a young person taking the throne. It's happened with women in the immediate past, but this pattern is what happens whenever any reasonably young and healthy person takes the throne, not only with women. (Cf Louis IX of France, who became King at age 5 and outlasted eight different rulers of England during his reign, including two of England's seven Queens regnant.)

< /history-rant>

Anna said...

Psycho, you're suggesting female monarchs might offer better value for money? ;-)

Lucy, doesn't the Queen as an individual own her property by virtue of the fact that she's the monarch? IE the public/private ownership boundary is pretty blurred? If the state applies different property ownership rules to the monarch (ie QE2 didn't pay tax until recently), then the public is facilitating her large-scale land ownership. If another (non-regal) individual owned the same amount of property, I suspect the state would move to regulate in the interests of preventing anti-competitive behaviour.

Granted, this isn't the same as directly misusing public resources, but it's not unrelated to it.

Hugh said...

The change you seek has already occured.

According to a law change passed in the UK in the late 90s, the eldest child of the monarch succeeds them, regardless of that child's gender.

Of course New Zealand has passed no such law. But, if this hypothetical situation were to occur, I'm sure such a law would be passed pretty swiftly.

Still, I'm struggling to think of the benefits a female monarch has provided to her female subjects.

Lewis said...

Sorry Hugh, the succession law was never changed - even though there have been several attempts to amend it. The rule of primogeniture (males before females) still exists.

In any case, such a change in the UK wouldn't affect New Zealand, and I suspect any debate about the succession would spark off the republic debate.

Hugh said...

Hmm, you're right Lewis. I'm sure I remember reading something about it in the late 90s, but perhaps it was simply proposed.

Still I imagine were William to have a daughter and a son (in that order) the issue would be revisited with some degree of urgency.

Ari said...

I honestly don't see the monarchy lasting very long in New Zealand if Charles becomes King. Part of what is slowing down desire for reform is that the Queen is actually pretty decent as monarchs go, but I doubt soch fondness would be found for Charles.

Lewis said...

It's been proposed endlessly since the 1990s, most recently by a LibDem back bencher. The problem is if the UK amends its succession law but other Commonwealth members where the Queen is head of state don't, then our succession laws will become out of sync. So if, say, Prince William had a daughter then a son, the UK could end up with the daughter as their Queen and we'd have the son as the King.

However, I'm sure the more likely scenario would be that the republic debate would be sparked off again in NZ, if not Canada, Jamaica and maybe Papua New Guinea. Or at least that's what I hope would happen ;-)