One-time New Zealand Prime Minister and former World Trade Organisation head Mike Moore has publicly raised the banner for a "managed" process of constitutional change in the country. Both National Party leader John Key and Labour Party Prime Minister Helen Clark say that New Zealand will "inevitably" make the transition from a realm of the British monarchy to independent republic "at some stage". But it is a change which neither of the leading political parties are willing to champion or in any way to encourage.
The political classes as a whole are rarely so shy about promoting a process which they deem to be "inevitable". In fact the normal political purpose of the dubious concept of "inevitability" is to justify morally obnoxious political programmes - ranging from "the dictatorship of the proletariat" to "the unregulated global economy" - which are designed to serve vested political interests. But in the case of constitutional change in New Zealand, the exact opposite is the case. Rather than saying "We have to do this because it is historically inevitable, it is unavoidable, it will happen regardless sooner or later", the politicians are saying "We don't have to do anything about the constitution, we don't even need to allow any discussion of the subject, because it will all happen in its own good time".
Part of the explanation for the politicians' coyness about engaging with the issue of constitutional change might seem to lie with the embarressment which they might feel at implicitly undermining the very regime which they have sworn to uphold, and the head of state to whom they have pledged allegiance. Yet New Zealand politicians are famed for their disloyalty to their leaders who they routinely despatch in palace coups as soon as they cease to be perceived as political assets. So if some other person than Elizabeth Windsor was able to offer John Key or Helen Clark the Treasury benches, their professions of loyalty to "Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors according to law.." would be retracted with indecent haste. Clark and Key acknowledge that the monarchy will "inevitably" pass into history only because they know that neither they nor anyone else will die in a ditch for the British crown once it has become a political liability.
However neither Clark nor Key are anxious to see the end of a system which for one hundred and sixty years has symbolized the political supremacy of the British race in New Zealand, and New Zealand's role as a client state within the Anglo-American imperial system. But both recognise that their are forces at work within New Zealand society which will make the monarchical system untenable in the long term. There are already obvious contradictions between a society which professes to be egalitarian, non-racist, not-sexist, and non-sectarian and a constitutional system which in its law of succession accords special political privileges to a particular class, race, gender and creed. Not surprisingly, Helen Clark can live with the idea that the New Zealand head of state should be a member of the British race. But if Princess Anne rather than Prince Charles had been Elisabeth's first-born, even Clark might not have been comfortable with the idea of Charles inheriting the crown of New Zealand ahead of his sister.
Such considerations are never openly acknowledged, but still tend to fester beneath the surface of New Zealand politics. And if the current Prime Minister's personal attitudes are appropriately discounted, of the four special privileges that the New Zealand constitution confers - on the British race in general, the British aristocracy in particular, the male gender and the Anglican creed - it is the race issue which is most fraught with political risk. The problems presented by an intrinsically racist constitutional system have, till now, found racial solutions, first with the appointment of a viceroy who, while a dependable prelate of the Anglican church also happened to be Maori, and them with the appointment of a virtual nonentity (Anand Satyanand) who happened to be politically reliable and of Indian descent. This is how the "process of managing change" is normally conducted in New Zealand. In reality it is an attempt to avoid or delay a fundamental change of regime. Which gives rise to two questions. First, why are the political classes within New Zealand so anxious to avoid changing a system which they acknowledge to be anachronistic at best ? And second, what are their prospects?
To answer the first question, it is only necessary to look at the personal circumstances of people like Helen Clark, John Key, and Mike Moore. They are all, in varying degrees, representative and beneficiaries of British colonisation. They, like hundreds of thousands of other New Zealanders, instinctively relate to Edward Gibbon Wakefield's founding vision of New Zealand as a comfortable home in the antipodes for the English landed gentry and an obliging and loyal class of agricultural labourers and domestic servants. The intention as well as the effect of all the "progressive" political and economic changes since 1984 have been to return to Wakefield's original vision for the colony of New Zealand. The domestic agenda, for the establishment of a privileged land owning class, supported by a ready supply of cheap domestic labour, has gone hand in hand with concept of New Zealand as an supplier of agricultural commodities and military resources to the empire. In the cases of John Key and Mike Moore, their personal wealth and status are more immediately linked to their involvement with the global economic system presided over and controlled by financial institutions of the United States and the United Kingdom.
For the political classes as a whole the problem of "managing change" is the problem of ensuring that Wakefield's vision of New Zealand as a class-based British colony in the South Seas can survive the eventual departure of the institution of the British monarchy. Mike Moore's proposal for an "eminent persons" group to determine the constitutional future of New Zealand is a blatant, albeit futile, attempt to pre-empt substantive political change. Moore would like our future to be decided by the same class of people who have ruled us in the name of Britain since the nineteenth century. He has not been specific about the makeup of such an "eminent persons group" but on past experience we could expect to come up with a bunch of retired Anglican prelates, generals, judges, senior state servants and ministers of the crown, all with a vested interest in retaining the imperial baggage of the old regime.
This proposal is not only unconscionable. It is also unconscionably
stupid. It is unthinkable that our nation will allow
its future to be determined by a group of "eminent persons" from a discredited
social class who owe their positions to the machinations of a foreign regime.
It is a peculiar conceit of this class that they will be able to "manage"
the process of change once it takes hold. In fact they will
be able to do nothing of the sort. Their standing, and their
power, remains inextricably linked to the global dominance of Britain and
the United States. As British prestige continues its
inexorable decline, as Anglo-American power military forces are fought
to the point of exhaustion in Iraq and Afghanistan, and as the Anglo-American
financial system is overshadowed by the emerging economies of Asia, the
"eminent persons" of the current regime will find the ground collapsing
under their feet. They may respond to events, even respond
astutely, but it will be quite beyond their powers to "manage the process
of change" so as to retain the substance of their regime.