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The Monarchy

There's No Business Like Show Business
But Don't Forget The Clown

The 2014 Windsor celebrity tour of New Zealand and Australia got a lot of attention in the British, New Zealand and Australian news media. Certainly the British news media like to focus on the former colonies that have held on to monarchy rather than the many republics that might show how democratic values and practices go hand in hand where the feudal institution holds sway no more.

Some special significance for republicanism was given to the tour, in particular because of an opinion poll showing that almost 42% of Australians are against their county freeing itself from monarchy. The suggestion was that the young and photogenic Windsor had given a new lease of life to the feudal institution.

The news media had little to tell us about why we should value an institution that boasts of its 1000 years of regal history but now shamelessly uses show business razzmatazz to prolong its privileges. There is nothing new, of course, in the Windsors' use of public relations. Family members have for long given their names as patrons of countless charities, while stuffing their own pockets with the people's money.

Image: Celebrating a Windsor wedding

Spin doctor John McTernan might write in the Telegraph that "they have no hidden agenda for their visit” but that seemed unlikely. The Australian Herald Sun was closer to the mark, reporting that Kate and Bill may "represent a generational resurgence. Queen Elizabeth has  enjoyed universal respect, as did the Queen Mother. But for decades, periodically damaged by controversy, marital splits, airs of entitlement, diplomatic faux pas, detachment and eccentricity, the House of Windsor has been losing a modern battle for hearts and minds, and for relevancy”.

David Marr in The Guardian also got it right. "This is succession planning" he wrote. "It's about laying down memories in Australia against the time the Queen dies. The press still eulogises them. 'It's truly magical', said a TV reporter to her camera as we waited at the rock for something to happen. Not really. It's the highly skilled creation of soft propaganda in which the press is complicit, the locals are extras and Uluru is a backdrop".

How does a country as big and successful as Australia still find itself so cravenly tied to a monarchy that prevents one of our own from being head of state?

How does a nation that has risen to chair the United Nations Security Council support a system that so blatantly breaches our democratic ideals and belief in reward for effort? And why does a dynamic multicultural country that is perfectly located on the cusp of the Asian century have the Union Jack in the corner of its flag?

We live in an era of celebrity in which we are bombarded with infotainment about famous people – it is a period that is perfectly suited to the photogenic young royals.

Public support for the royals is like that for other celebrities – it is the product of carefully choreographed media appearances that rely on images rather than thoughts, beliefs or values.

The slim hope for republicans is that now the royals are viewed in a "celebrity frame” their public support may be as shallow and transient as that for any other celebrity.

Nicholas Reece, The Age

But there is a problem for the Windsors and their supporters, which this shown business tactic seems intended to take our attention away from. That problem is Charlie Windsor, the man who longs to put the king back into kingdom. The Australian newspaper can say "Republic can wait while we've go William and Kate". But for now the monarchists have Bill and Catherine only for show. What they have for real post-Lizzie is a throne with Charlie's arse on the seat.

And as we all know so well, a man of 65 can expect a long life. That's a long life for a king who has none of the photogenic qualities or charm of the youngsters. Charlie has waited many years, and has longed for it so long, that he is unlikely to easily give it up.

So the recent celebrity tour was at least in part an exercise in distraction. An exercise in which much of the news media behaved as loyal servants of the Windsors, not as journalists with a citizenly sense of responsibility.

But the biggest enemies of republicanism may not be the monarchists or the media. More likely it is those afraid to cut through the public relations fog and say that however pretty the package may sometimes be, monarchy is a self-serving institution that debases true democracy.

The Australian Labour Party leader Bill Shorten was reported to have said "We’ve got the lovely visit currently by the young royals – you know, they’re winning hearts and minds, that’s great." That was an extraordinarily misjudged statement by a man who claims to be a republican. As George Williams wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald "The Australian Labor Party needs to accept its share of responsibility for the decline in republican support. The party is staunchly republican in its policies and sentiment, but gives the impression that it has given up trying".

To be fair, though, it is not as bad as the British Labour Party, which is scared to whisper boo to feudal privilege. And for the UK the problem is worse. We have to pay many millions each year to support these arrogant swindlers. And we have to tolerate their interference in our government, the discrimination against republicans that they impose, and the harm to democratic culture that their institution does. Australians and New Zealanders may not need to take them too seriously. We must.

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