His Royal Highness Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, is dropping in. Time to reflect.
Prince Charles represents the monarchy — our monarchy, furnished to us for ceremonials by the august House of Windsor and the generous English people.
Women’s magazines will be pleased he is coming amongst us. With Charles on the cover they can sell more copies. He is not female but he is a passable stand-in.
Monarchists will be pleased he is claiming his loyal south-British outpost — though traditionalists among them may tut-tut at his new marriage and the protocol puddles into which it has sunk.
Anti-republicans should be pleased, because he is a living symbol — in a sense — of what they think is right about the present system: the monarchy is above the day-to-day squabbles which obsess our politicians.
Anti-republicans think a local president, especially if elected, would diminish the office of head of state by at some point descending into politics, claiming a mandate to adjudicate on serious impasses.
Governors-General, though local, are shielded from such low politics because they are constrained by protocol and custom and are nominally the Queen’s appointees.
So the argument goes. The present excellent Gov has twice ruffled Waitangi Day feathers, last year by reinterpreting, correctly, Governor Hobson’s “he iwi tahi tatou” and this year by grumping, rightly, that women are parked in the second row on marae for reasons of antiquated tribal protocol. (Right on, says the Prime Minister sotto voce. This is the twenty-first century.)
Both monarchists and anti-republicans might nonetheless rue a missed chance. If Charles had kept his private life in order, could not an offer have been made to renounce the throne of Britain to become Charles I here — our real very own king?
What would he have lost back home? His grandmother lived to 100 and so might his mother. So he mightn’t be long in the top job anyway. The climate is better here, the fishing good, the architecture resplendent with bad taste for him to excoriate, the staff much more fertile memo-fodder for getting above themselves than those he must make do with moaning about in England.
As King Charles, he could have married a Te Heu Heu, or a princess of comparable rank — a regal cross-cultural conciliatory gesture after three decades of Treaty of Waitangi friction. His royal household could have been a living example of the treaty spirit: two peoples in one nation.
And as the Crown in residence, descendant of Queen Victoria in whose name the treaty was signed, he could have played the iconic treaty “partner”. Moreover, for those republicans who are republican for nationalistic reasons, he would have been at least our monarch, starting our dynasty.
That’s wild fantasy, of course, befitting monarchism. In real life there is Camilla — an inverse reminder of the sainted Diana, the fairytale that wasn’t. And in real life there is the unsainted Charles.
He will represent to us this coming week a tarnished throne or at least a tarnished royal house. Splendour does not easily sit with him. The radiance of his mum’s sojourn here in the summer of 1953-54, when we were all monarchists, has not been passed on.
We aren’t such monarchists now. Majorities tell pollsters they still want the Queen. But large numbers are now republican in spirit and those numbers are set to grow, generation by generation. None of the under-60s, the people who wrought the 1980s revolution, call Britain Home. The vast majority is now truly local, indigenised here.
Some generation, sometime, will end the monarchist fiction, as befits an emergent nation that is now independent in mind, even if not yet in the trappings of flag and Crown.
But that end will not come next year and maybe not even in the next decade, for all Peter Dunne’s beavering on his select committee “stocktake” of the constitution and thereafter a process to consider change.
First, there is no burning public desire to fix arrangements that, while anachronistic and antique, are not broken. Second, the much more republican-minded Australians decided in 1999 to keep the Queen (though Prime Minister-in-waiting Peter Costello is a republican).
Third, there is the treaty. What do you do with the treaty in a republican constitution? We are lightyears from an agreed answer.
And that is because we cannot yet agree on the treaty in our politics and daily life. Witness the National party scratching itches again last week on ownership of flora and fauna (the long-running WAI262 claim) and vacuous treaty clauses in job descriptions. Those are matters of real irritation in the suburbs and might yet tip the election.
The treaty is at the core of our politics, our constitution and our sense of nation. Charles is symbolic, however inelegantly and inadequately, of one side of the treaty’s slippery equation. When we reflect on his presence here, we might most usefully reflect on how sensibly to go about solving that equation.