If Harry and Meghan can leave the royal family behind surely Aotearoa can do it too, argues Lewis Holden of New Zealand Republic.
Of all the revelations to come from Monday’s blockbuster interview with Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, the one that seems to have struck many in New Zealand is the claim Meghan and Harry considered moving here. Amid the ongoing fallout from the interview, including shocking allegations of racism within the royal family, what should be obvious, however, is that it’s time for Aotearoa New Zealand to drop our collective colonial insecurity and make a New Zealand citizen our head of state.
Don’t worry, I’m not about to again go over the whole hot mess that is the royal family and its relationship with Meghan Markle. Nor am I going to claim, as others have, that the interview has left the monarchy on the ropes. After all, the British monarchy has survived worse crises – including having a Nazi sympathiser as king – and will no doubt face even more crisis in years to come. Just imagine what’s coming after Prince Andrew’s next interview with the FBI, or when the reign of Charles III begins.
But what this whole sorry debacle does do is demand we ask this question: why do we keep clinging to this colonial institution that has no relevance to contemporary Aotearoa New Zealand? Our need for validation by others, especially the British royals, is an anachronism. That our sense of national identity is still tied to the symbols of an Empire now dead and buried is a constant source of chagrin for those New Zealanders who want to move our country forward.
Some seem still to cling to the royals as a child does to their comfort blanket; there is a prevailing form of national anxiety that sends us down stupid rabbit holes to defend an institution with next to zero constitutional power – other than rubber-stamping the prime minister’s choice of the stand-in head of state, the governor-general.
Opinion polls on this issue emphasise the demographic divide between old and young, provincial and urban. Despite some fear-mongering about Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the relationship between kawanatanga and iwi set out within it, significantly more Māori support change than oppose it. There is, despite all attempts to claim otherwise, a clear understanding that when it comes to Te Tiriti, it’s the Beehive that matters, not Buckingham Palace.
Harry and Meghan’s interview won’t be the final nail in the British monarchy’s coffin, in our country at least. But it should give us pause for thought about the impending end of the Queen’s reign. Later this year, the tiny Caribbean country of Barbados is going to show us what can come next: it’s becoming a republic, while staying a member of the Commonwealth.
We have the ability to make some straightforward changes: to elevate our stand-in head of state to an actual head of state, to put in place an appointment process that ensures the office has mana and isn’t a sinecure for former MPs (as the governor-generalship has been used for in the past) and to clarify the realities of the Treaty relationship.
And once we’ve done that, Harry and Meghan can then pop over this way – to have a chat with the first head of state of our own.
Lewis Holden is chair of New Zealand Republic, a campaign for a New Zealand citizen to be our head of state.