The occasional visit of our beloved rulers from England always stirs up that tired old debate between royalists and republicans. So it is timely to remind ourselves of a better alternative to both sides of the argument – a third way, if you like.
Let’s start with what’s wrong with both of these positions. Royalists are basically old school sycophants yearning for what they see as the glory days of the British Empire, and others see as naked colonialist aggression. Royalists are besotted not with royalty in general, but with this particular lot. So they don’t really mind that the Queen’s husband is an incorrigible racist or that they’re all inbred.
Republicans on the other hand seem to want us to vote for a head of state, which raises the serious risk that the person who wins the election might actually have, or claim to have, some kind of popular mandate. I don’t personally think our democracy works very well, but neither do I think this would help in any way.
What about the positives? Here the royalists could at least claim an economic impact from a royal visit. I bet they’d be able to find economic consultants who’d gladly estimate some massive benefit from all the extra buying of newspapers, magazines, advertising, souvenir tat etc. They might even argue that the taxpayer funding of the visit “facilitates” or “sustains” some GDP and jobs or helps promote New Zealand to the world.
It’s harder to see any big gains from the republican approach. Some of us would benefit from not being exposed to all the fawning bullshit, but it seems that other people actually like that stuff. Maybe you could argue that our democracy would be less corrupted by, for example arranging royal tours in election years. But there would still be scope for similar shenanigans in a republic.
Moving on. Here’s the plan. We put the monarchy out to tender, say every five years. Anyone can bid, and the basic deal is that you have zero actual power, you pay the full cost of all tours etc, but other than that you can write your own script. Tenders will need to include proposals for tours (maybe an annual frequency to crank up the economic impact?), an indication of the kind of pomp and razamatazz envisaged (crowns, gowns etc), the proposed titles and means of address (emperor, sultan, poobah, whatever) and of course the proposed annual fee payable to the people of New Zealand.
This would be just the thing for a billionaire or oligarch looking for a bit of extra adulation. We might want to add a screening test to exclude real ratbags, but most of the super-rich wouldn’t fall into that category. The main benefit though is to make the monarchy much more interesting. There would be a whole new team to investigate every five years for a start. So we’d be able to sell a lot more magazines and newspapers and souvenir tat. The whole industry would explode, because we’d have follow-up stories on how the previous lot are getting on, and forward looking pieces about who might bid next time. And best of all, they’d pay us instead of us paying them.