Friday, December 21, 2007

Two Cheers for the Queen

Well I am touring frozen and damp Britain for the festive season, and discovering that in the motherland there's no such thing as a free wifi. Even the Starbucks charge.

So here's come catch up.Two cheers for the Queen
Australians may want to abolish the monarchy, but the US shows there's some advantage to having a harmless head of state some distance away
Ian Williams


Leaving the frozen Catskills for the balmy Caribbean, the transition from minus 12 to plus 30 centigrade puts a different perspective on global warming and even on the monarchy.

Being greeted by the Royal Saint Lucian Police Force lends a different perspective to politics. No one in St Lucia seems upset in the slightest at remaining subjects of a transplanted Teutonic alleged descendent of Woden. It's not that the St Lucians are fervent monarchists. All my local friends seem blithely indifferent to the subject and are quite happy to have the Queen's local representative, governor-general Dame Pearlette Louisy, do the honours at local ceremonies while the prime minister gets on with the actual governance.

The matter-of-fact pragmatism reminds of the Jamaican Rasta interviewed on the occasion of Mrs Windsor-Battenberg's trip to see her subjects there. "We like she so much, man, maybe she give us a visa so we can go visit she back home."

With John Howard downed down under, it seems the leaders of both the government and the opposition in Canberra are now republicans who want to abolish the monarchy in Australia, even if they differ on what to replace it with.

They really should be laid back about it. Elitist symbolism apart, there is some considerable pragmatic advantage to having a harmless head of state shelved at a safe distance on the opposite side of the globe. The US, with a Hanoverian monarch elected every four years disguised as a president, is a forcible demonstration that competence and rationality are no more guaranteed by cash-dominated elections than by the hereditary principle. But maybe that's not fair: does anyone really think that George Bush would have been elected to any office higher than municipal dog-catcher if he were not his father's son?

No one ever said "I must support my governor-general," let alone "I must support my prime minister," but you do hear people say they must support their president.
But ability notwithstanding, having a head of state elected on a party platform is conducive to abusing the office and the electorate's patriotism, as we witness with the nauseating sight of President Bush, deserter-in-chief, wrapping himself in the flag at every army base or veterans' gathering he can.

Indeed, St Lucians, forgiving though they are, have good reasons to remember Bush's predecessor, Bill Clinton, who accepted large donations from Carl Lindner of Chiquita, owners of vast Central American banana plantations, and immediately initiated a World Trade Organisation case against European preferences for bananas from Caribbean countries like St Lucia. Formerly dependent on the bendy yellow fruit, St Lucia today exports only a quarter of the bananas it used to and is now almost completely dependent on tourism. Tourism has been a lifeline for the country, and it's a very pleasant place to visit - but the hotel and resort development was not dependent on wiping out a whole class of independent farmers.

In one of those quantum entanglements of history, Sandals, one of St Lucia's major resorts, sports a huge portrait of Clinton in the William J Clinton Ballroom. The ex-president came to open the place - and one suspected accepted a handsome speaking fee to come to do so.

The St Lucians were too polite to put any banana skins on the marble floors of the banqueting hall. But who knows, between that and Bush threatening them for not signing agreements to exclude Americans from the International Criminal Court, they may have decided that elected presidents were as much a problem as a solution.

Which brings us back to Australia. If, as most Aussies seem to want, they replace the governor-general with a directly elected president, the very act of election invests the office with dangerous significance. Do they really want to risk setting up an office, potentially with someone like Howard, not susceptible to lack-of-confidence votes in the parliament?

It may be better to bite the bullet, knock back a Bundaberg rum and stick with the far away frumpy snob and her eccentric son.


Greek Australian Monarchist said...

Interesting but this article is wrong on two important counts.

1. Most Australians do not want a republic. The majority voted in 1999 against the republicans’ preferred model.

2. The Leader of the Opposition is a strong Monarchist, not a republican. See:

Deadline Pundit said...

the polls suggested that what most Australians wanted was not the particular replacement for the monarchy that the referendum offered. It was not a straight up or down vote on the monarchy.

And sorry if I am wrong about the Tory leader - I was relying on press reports, but will check more closely. As the article suggests, in either case, Aussies may be better off with the present system than they realise!