OPINION: Fifteen years ago, just after the death of Princess Diana, few would have given much for the chances of New Zealand's continuing with a monarch as its head of state.
Although the Queen was still regarded with respect and affection, the Prince of Wales, after the ferocious emotional tumult of his separation and divorce from Diana, was not. Unlike Australia, where there has for some time been a strong impulse toward becoming a republic, there was no particular groundswell to change the system here, merely a feeling that it would come some time, possibly when Charles succeeded to the throne.
The last Labour Government sought, as some saw it, to hasten the process by stealth by abolishing titles of various kinds that were a token of a link to the Crown. After the creation in the 1990s of a New Zealand system of honours to replace British honours, the Labour prime minister Helen Clark, soon after she came to office, announced that no more knighthoods or damehoods would be conferred.
The designation of Queen's Counsel (or King's Counsel when a male is on the throne) for senior barristers was replaced with the blander Senior Counsel, the term used in parts of Australia.
Even as recently as five years ago, feeling for the monarchy, as demonstrated, for instance, by turnouts at royal visits was tepid. More recently, however, the mood appears to have changed.
It is difficult to determine precisely why this should have happened, although Charles' evident happiness with his new wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, the marriage of Prince William to Kate Middleton, a rival to Diana in beauty and glamour but without Diana's emotional instability, and the triumphant celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Queen's accession to the throne must all be factors.
Small signs of this change of mood were the restoration, by Prime Minister John Key, of knighthoods and damehoods and the term Queen's Counsel, and the decision by almost all who held the demonarchised equivalents of those honours to take up the option to change to the royal versions.
This change in public opinion is important. Without consensus, constitutional change of such significance can not be made. There are other, deeper impediments to change as well. As Australia found in its referendum in 1999, deciding on what should replace the monarchy is not easy.
The Maori relationship with the Crown is also not easy to disentangle. While successive governments have been the source of many ills for Maori, the Crown is also seen by many as the source of resolving them, and republicanism could threaten this.
Charles' evident seriousness of purpose about public issues has also won him admirers and softened the impulse towards republicanism. Where he was once derided for allegedly talking to plants, he is now seen as being admirably eco-sensitive. His pronounced views on architecture and sustainability, once thought of as slightly eccentric, are now seen as ahead of the game.
This last is of particular importance to Christchurch as the city ponders the huge rebuilding job it has ahead of it. Charles has not been shy of expressing his opinions about projects in London (he once denounced a modern building as "a monstrous gherkin").
Is it too much to hope he, as the future King of New Zealand, will give us his views while he is here on Friday on saving Christ Church Cathedral and proposals for the rebuild?
- © Fairfax NZ News