I think we can all agree the royal tour went rather well. A Herald editorialist had to de-mothball the words “glorious” and “triumph” to do it justice, and went on to suggest that it surpassed all previous House of Windsor forays to this distant corner of its domain.
The few remaining Republicans are probably assuring each other that similar sentiments were expressed at the conclusion of the last royal visit, and the one before that. They may even mutter that the same fairytale couple and adorable child narrative was deployed during Charles and Diana’s 1984 tour. What we didn’t know at the time was that the marriage supposedly made in heaven was – how can I put this politely? – an artificial construct.
So what did the Cambridges actually do to captivate the nation? Well, they:
- Brought their baby with them.
- Allowed said baby to enter a playpen containing Kiwi babies.
- Smiled a lot.
- Waved a lot.
- Wore what, in the Duchess’s case anyway, were deemed to be nice clothes.
- Steered America’s Cups yachts, under close supervision.
- Played some pretty average backyard cricket.
- Watched kiddies play rugby.
- Sampled some pinot noir.
- Avoiding looking bored out of their skulls.
That last one is no mean feat. Plenty of celebrities find it difficult to be charming and gracious in public for any longer than a minute or two, let alone an entire week. And even if the Cambridges have a born to rule mindset – if so, they hide it well – being constantly fawned over must get tiresome after a while.
Frankly, the rest of it doesn’t amount to much. If people want to be dazzled by this pleasant, attractive young couple, that’s okay. If grown-ups want to carry on like One Direction fans, that’s okay too, in the sense that it’s their problem, not ours.
What’s not okay is the assertion that these exceedingly modest achievements demonstrate or confer distinction. Perhaps the most irritating aspect of the whole exercise was the media’s insistence that, when performed by William, Kate or George, commonplace acts become remarkable feats. If a prime minister’s wife dressed like Kate she’d probably be labelled an attention-seeking clotheshorse but, for now, we’ve embraced the glossy magazine ethos that clothes make the woman.
With the air of a man putting an issue to bed, Seven Sharp’s Mike Hosking declared “I like the royals.” One would hope so. If the royals can’t be likeable, where does that leave them and us?
The above programme was designed for the specific purpose of enabling the Cambridges to be likeable, and there’s no denying they nailed it. On the other hand, the list of members of the immediate and extended royal family who in recent years have failed the likeability test is embarrassingly long.
Nor is it okay to insist that the success of this promotional exercise obviates the need for a forward-looking debate about our constitutional arrangements and how we wish to be viewed by the rest of the world.
An interesting sideline was the apparently widespread perception that John Key exploited the royal tour for unworthy political purposes. It’s anomalous that a decade and a half into the 21st century we can be beguiled by a hereditary prince and his consort, yet assume the worst about the politicians we elect. Thus photo opportunities for taxpayer-funded figureheads from the other side of the world are things of beauty until our elected representatives get in on the act.
Members of Parliament must:
- Brought their baby with them.
- Put themselves through the rigours and indignities of election campaigns.
- Mount an argument as to why they should be elected.
- Represent their constituents.
- Participate in parliamentary debates on the issues confronting the nation.
- Serve on parliamentary committees.
- Govern – i.e. make decisions that affect their fellow citizens and determine the course of the nation.
- Oppose – i.e. keep those who govern honest and accountable.
Their reward is to be mocked, scrutinised and generally held in low esteem: used car salesmen with better superannuation packages. Their competence is routinely derided; if and when they do get things done, their motives are likely to be questioned.
Elections are the lifeblood of democracy, the system of government that gives power to the people rather than aristocrats, oligarchs, generals or those who rise to the top of authoritarian regimes, yet when politicians seek to persuade us to vote for them, our disdain for them if anything deepens.
There are various understandable reasons for this, ranging from familiarity breeding contempt to the nature of adversarial politics being that politicians are forever telling us how venal other politicians are.
But part of it is us looking in the mirror and not liking what we see.