Will could save the monarchy
AS soon as I can, probably within a couple of years, I hope to take the oath of Australian citizenship. It’s something I take seriously, not least because of the relief of finally being able to cast a vote on who gets to spend my taxes. But it will also place me in the naggingly uncomfortable position of being a citizen of a country whose head of state comes from a family with a long-standing tradition of doing cruel and unusual things to Irish people.
I use the word “naggingly” quite deliberately because despite my qualms about the British royals’ connections with lopping off Irish people’s heads and trying to wring the life out of Ireland’s language and sporting traditions, for some time I have been developing an increasing admiration for the Windsors. On balance I’m looking forward to having some ownership over the monarchy.
Prince William’s arrival this week compounds it. I’ve decided I’m jealous. I have crown envy.
This may be out of a vain hope that citizenship will help me fully connect with the respect and admiration people have for the royals, which will be on full display over the coming days as Will’s every move is tracked on Australian soil. A cursory look at the reporting from New Zealand of Will’s visit gives a taste of what we’re in for this week.
“Wellington’s much-maligned weather took pity on the prince, turning on a blue sky and relatively flat sea for his trip to the island,” reported stuff.co.nz, as if being in line to the throne almost gives a prince power over the weather itself. “The royal was greeted with shouts of ‘we love you William’ as he pulled up in his convoy.”
There have been hints of it already here ahead of his arrival. On Sunday Wills was photographed at the helm of NZL41, a former America’s Cup yacht. Hello magazine’s Royal correspondent Judy Wade discussed what she saw as the dramatic symbolism of the image on ABC radio yesterday.
“It seemed to me that Willy wasn’t just steering an America’s Cup yacht,” she gushed, “but he was steering the monarchy into the future.”
It is difficult to square the clear enthusiasm people have for his presence with the conventional political narrative that Australia will eventually break its ties with the monarchy. It seems we’re happy to be paid the compliment of the official visit but then once he’s gone we’ll turn around and start talking about when Australia should give the House of Windsor a two-fingered salute and declare itself a republic.
But as a political figurehead William is a powerful weapon for the royals in Australia. He is blessed with a characteristic that many of our domestic pollies would dearly like to have: he’s the kind of bloke you’d be happy to have a beer with. He has a sense of humour, applies himself to his work, loves his sport and enjoys the occasional night on the turps with his brother and some mates.
In short, he’s very likeable. Personal popularity may not be enough to derail Australia’s march towards republicanism, but it will help.
It doesn’t stop there, though. William is part of a royal family increasingly branding itself as modern and reformist. By any assessment the royals have shown a determination to become more servants of their subjects than rulers. The Queen agreed to start paying taxes and after an initially disastrous response to Diana’s death they finally responded with appropriate dignity to the overwhelming public demand to share in the world’s shock and grief at the loss.
The speed bump ahead in Australia’s relations with the royals hardly needs stating. In terms of popular appeal Charles is the precise opposite of his eldest son: probably one of the last people you’d like to have over to your place for a beer, and doubly so if he wanted to bring Camilla.
The Queen herself has acknowledged the precarious position of the monarchy in Australian public opinion. After the 1999 referendum she said: “I have always made it clear that the future of the monarchy in Australia is an issue for you, the Australian people, and you alone, to decide by democratic and constitutional means. It should not be otherwise.”
It’s easy to see Charles, if he’s crowned, being Australia’s last monarch. But a fresh and hip yet still dignified King William? There, so to speak, is a ruler you could line up with.
I’d hope to have a vote in any future referendum on an Australian republic, and while as an Irishman I have a long and sorry list of reasons to kick the Windsors, as long William is a close prospect for the throne you can stick me down as undecided.
(Update: A Newspoll released last night found 58 per cent of Australians want William, not Charles, to succeed the Queen.)
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