Harmless figurehead keeps calm and carries on

Weeks have elapsed since the Queen's big 60th shindig. In its immediate wake, extremists from either end of the monarchy debate crawled out of their respective lunatic holes and gave us the benefit of their respective wisdom. It beggars belief that folk can have strong opinions either way on who our head of state should be.

I would have thought that any figurehead leader whose idea of backyard entertainment involved Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, Cliff Richard, Elton John and the Fab One himself on the eve of Sir Paul's own 70th birthday should be safe in her job for life, even if all but the sexy Welshman appeared to have long ago lost their voices.

Any lingering doubts over the future of the House of Windsor to see us right for the next couple of hundred years were for me laid to rest by two immensely tasteful inclusions on the Diamond Jubilee set list: McCartney's spirited rendition of Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da at its climax and Grace Jones' mesmerising hula-hoop work.

Rationality is often brought most inappropriately to the table during discussions on the heredity rights of kings and queens. It does indeed appear on face value that democracy as a concept would be better served by electing the nominal leader of the country.

When we get down to case studies, though, this idea is mighty hard to sustain. What, pray tell, was the Queen doing when former United States president Richard Nixon was plotting Watergate break-ins, comparing football stories with Gordon Liddy, bombing Cambodia and cosying up to last century's biggest butcher, Mao Zedong? How was Her Majesty engaged when Bill Clinton was soiling dresses, scoffing pizza with interns and inventing new uses for cigars? Where was the sovereign when Silvio Berlusconi was knocking off underage prostitutes at bunga-bunga parties, when John F Kennedy brought the world to the brink of nuclear annihilation during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when Charles De Gaulle oversaw the massacre of Algerians, and so on?

At worst, the Queen was sipping tea, swapping racing tips with her long-lived mother and disciplining the corgis.

Of course, not all the Queen's forebears or offspring have enjoyed such a spotless reputation. When he was Prince of Wales, great grandfather Edward VII notoriously spent enough inside Lilly Langtry to float a battleship, and the current holder of that position once remarked that he would like to be reincarnated as the Duchess of Cornwell's tampon. However, outside uncle Edward VIII's brief flirtation with the Nazis, you would have to go a long way back in the Queen's family tree to find anything that would constitute an actual abuse of power. As far as political transgressions go, talking to plants, having controversial views on architecture and indulging in a fairly commonplace spot of adultery when married to the most desired woman in the world at the time is about bad as the heir to the throne gets.

The question of relevance to New Zealand is one that is frequently raised with regard to the monarchy. What have the affairs of some English aristocrats with affected voices and a keenness for blood sports have to do with us, here on the other side of the world?

Probably about as much as they do with the average working-class Pom, yet the historic and cultural links that bind us to the motherland continue to stir emotions in many. If Maori quite rightly look to the past and their ancestors when negotiating an uncertain future, why cannot others find like solace in the certainty of a tradition whose charms are as harmless as they are anachronistic?

Would the country be better served by having some wheezy old political hack as a figurehead leader? With Sir Edmund Hillary gone, comedian John Clarke in Melbourne and Colin Meads enjoying retirement, I cannot think of a single person who is up to the job.

I suppose I have a personal bias. My mother was as arch a royalist as ever drew breath. I have a 1953 photo of her atop a building at Eton college, a snap taken just after she witnessed the Queen's first visit to that venerable school as reigning sovereign. Fifty-seven years later, mother visited her country of birth for the last time and got a royal wave from the Queen outside Windsor Castle. For mother, such a small gesture justified the entire trip. I cannot see anything wrong with this.

Waikato Times