Friday, April 29, 2011

How the Age newspaper saw the wedding

from w
Though some newspapers just did rave, the Age was more perceptive.
Editorial from the Age on Saturday 30 April 2011-04-30
A swell party but what happens next

THE wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton - henceforth to be called Catherine, if the palace has its way - was planned as a grand occasion. Understandably. Nobody does pageantry better than the British, and seldom have they needed a heart-warming diversion more than they do just now. After the global financial crisis they are facing the harshest economic austerity measures they have experienced since World War II. Only curmudgeons would begrudge them - and the hundreds of millions around the world watching on television - this spectacular party.

The royal family, too, needed a morale booster. Living under the long, dark shadow cast by the messy failure of the marriage of the heir to the throne, Prince Charles, and the early, shocking death of his wife, Diana, embarrassed by the indiscretions of some of its other members, and hounded by tabloid media, the royals required something special to burnish a tainted image. William and Kate, an attractive, apparently level-headed couple, seem ideally suited for the job.

Mind you, they will have their work cut out. When it comes to public relations, the royal family, or its establishment advisers, have a talent for getting it wrong. The heavy-handed decision to pressure the BBC to force the ABC to abandon a planned "alternative" royal wedding commentary by the Chaser team is such a case. The family not only lurched into censorship but, by making a goose of itself, made whatever irreverent send-up the Chaser boys were plotting quite unnecessary.

But that is a side issue. As the trampled bunting is swept from London's streets, the real question is whether the enthusiasm generated by yesterday's hoopla was just a flash in the royal pan. Or can this marriage, as monarchists hope, revitalise the institution of the monarchy and deliver a fatal blow to the republican cause, in Australia and Britain? After all, opinion polls suggest public support for that cause is declining.

There are other reasons for monarchist optimism. Prince William, second in line to the throne behind his father, Prince Charles, and his bride may indeed inject a shot of contemporary relevance into the house of Windsor. In some respects they are a thoroughly modern couple, a break from stuffy, exclusive tradition. She is no girlish, high-bred debutante but a 29-year-old commoner, daughter of self-made, albeit wealthy, parents. Both are university graduates. They lived together before they wed.

The best guess about what will happen next in the royal saga is: probably nothing much in the short term. Given that avowed republican politicians, including the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, are too preoccupied with more immediate problems to address the issue, the former prime minister John Howard may well prove right in his assertion that there will be no Australian republic while Elizabeth II continues to reign. But for monarchists there's the rub. The Queen comes from long-lived stock, and is apparently not attracted to the idea of abdicating in favour of her son. But she is 85. Sooner or later death or disability must strike her down.

When that happens, and after proper mourning for a much loved and dedicated woman, the republican debate will erupt again - particularly if the incurably uncharismatic Prince Charles, he of the doleful countenance and sometimes eccentric views, does succeed to the throne. The anomalies inherent in the monarchical system will then become more glaringly evident.

One is the lunacy that Australians still owe allegiance to a foreign king or queen who lives on the other side of the world and pays us only rare, fleeting visits, waving graciously. Another, in a nation priding itself on egalitarian values, is that the monarchy is hereditary. Worse, under the 1701 British Act of Settlement, the crown passes down according to arcane rules that discriminate on gender and religious grounds.

Under the law of male primogeniture, if yesterday's royal newlyweds produce a daughter or two, and then a son, the son will have precedence in the line of succession. Similarly unacceptable in a multi-religious country, the monarch must be a Protestant. If William or his wife converted to Catholicism, he would forgo any claim to the throne.

True, even if these anachronisms were discarded, it would still be hard to achieve national consensus on how to elect or select a head of state - a difficulty brilliantly exploited by Howard in frustrating the previous republican push here. But however charming the new royal couple may be, the issue cannot be dodged indefinitely.



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