Monday, September 21, 2009

Twyford on the republic

over on Red Alert, Labour MP Phil Twyford comes out in support of a republic:

While a student at Auckland University I did a WEA night class on republicanism with Bruce. He argued the political culture of settler New Zealand with its colonial trappings tended to inhibit a mature political discussion about what it means to be a New Zealander, and what New Zealand means.

Sometimes people say why bother with a republic. It is just symbolism. But the symbolism of nationhood is important. Our idea of what this country is all about provides the framing for every major political debate we have, whether it is about protecting the environment, the gap between rich and poor, the place of tangata whenua, or our relationship with the rest of the world.

I agree with Phil that that symbolism matters. It makes a real difference whether we see ourselves as equal citizens bound together by mutual consent, or as subjects of an unelected monarch with a "divine right" to rule. It makes a real difference whether governments see their power as flowing upwards from popular consent, or downwards from the monarch. The latter can be simply illustrated by comparing New Zealand and the UK. In our de facto republic, the government knows it is accountable to us; in the UK, even after almost a hundred years of universal suffrage, the government still sees the people as something to be controlled and ignored.

Becoming a republic is about saying who we are: an egalitarian country, without deference, without hierarchy, without privilege. Those have been our values since the colonial era, when "Jack was as good as master"; its high time they were reflected in our constitutional structure.