A marriage made in Westminster for our top royalist

Our leading royalist is in London for a signal pageant: the marriage on Friday of our future King William V of New Zealand (and of Mother Britain).

And, if his good grace here so far, most recently to commemorate the dead in Christchurch and at Pike River, is a guide, William and Queen Kate will be a popular regal pair.

This is, after all, the country which restored knighthoods and Queen’s counsels after a levelling Labour cabinet had consigned them to history along with appeals to the Privy Council.

John Key’s exhumation of these medieval relics was vindicated by the near-unanimous rush by those gonged with plebeian honours in the interregnum to call themselves sirs and dames.

For that exceptional fealty Key earned a stay for himself and Bronagh at Balmoral with the Queen, sadly cancelled by the first Christchurch earthquake.

He has since stuck to his royalist hymnal and nominated his choice for Governor-General to the Queen. A plebiscite for the day-to-day head of state doesn’t make a suitable topic for small-talk at the Palace. His government defeated a bill last year by Green MP Keith Locke for such a plebiscite 68-53.

Has Key overestimated his subjects’ monarchism?

Not if supposedly more republican, because more Irish, Australia is a guide. Welsh-born Julia Gillard is at the wedding. She has sworn off a referendum on a republic for as long as the Queen lives.

So logically Charles, if he outlives his mother, will become Charles III of Australia, with William V in the wings, winning hearts and minds — well, hearts at least.

Actually, Australia had a referendum, in 1999. It followed a two-week constitutional convention which agonised whether an elected president would be a third power centre competing with the Senate and House of Representatives. Royalist John Howard seized on that unease to put up an appointed president as the republican option. Australians didn’t buy that ruse and voted the republic down.

New Zealanders probably would have, too. We are too democratic — republican with a small r — to replace royalty with cronyism.

Has Australia got more republican since 1999?

Not if the flag is a measure. Whereas baby-boomers — at least chattering-class baby-boomers — deplore the flag with its British Union Jack as a relic of empire, younger Australians, it seems from news reports, draped themselves in it and even tattooed it on themselves on Australia Day (January 26) this year. That goes along with thronging to Gallipoli.

Here flag-draping doesn’t seem yet to be catching on. The main enthusiasm for a flag distinctively of this place has been among Maori, for the one Hone Harawira chose to fly on Auckland harbour bridge.

Polls have been mixed but generally against a republic or in favour of keeping the monarchy. Men, it seems, are more republican than women.

So it is a fair bet Key is not out of step. If so, it is a fair bet we will get Charles III of New Zealand (if he outlives his mother). There is little enthusiasm — yet — to legislate in advance to end of the monarchy upon Elizabeth’s death, as some in the National party have proposed. Given William’s charm, it might not fly in Charles’s time either.

But that is not the end of the story, thanks to the Maori party’s deal with National in 2008 for a constitutional review, to begin next year.

The core issue in that review is the place of the Treaty of Waitangi in the constitution — whether it should be superior law or given general legal status or otherwise accorded more formal weight. The explicit terms of reference do not include the republic question but the review is to be “open to considering other issues and perspectives that are raised during public engagement” and the republic will certainly come up.

Maori used to be against a republic because of an imagined special relationship with the monarch. Over the past 10 years, in part because of a growing expectation the monarch would eventually be deposed, the focus has shifted to a stronger legal footing for the Treaty.

The republic is still a good bet — sometime. The Labour and Green parties are near wall-to-wall republican, even if non-urgently. A growing proportion of Nationalists are republican. Key won’t be Prime Minister forever and he can’t fix his succession by inheritance.

But for now it is a time for royalists. The BBC’s Nick Bryant wrote in The Australian last week that this is “something of an annus horribilis” for the republican movement there. He might have been speaking of the movement here when he said the Australian one is “very much alive but … in the sense of a hibernating animal for which a full awakening is still a long way off”. That, he said, was due to the “stunning turnround” at Windsor since Australia’s referendum.

So amid a national flush of sentiment, Bronagh and John, our most royalist Prime Minister since Sir Robert Muldoon and possibly since Sir Sidney Holland, will join in the right-royal pomp at Westminster on Friday. Plus ca change…