November 25, 2004 – 11:33 am
I’ve never known what the Queen was for. I mean, I guess I never really thought about it. She’s the head of state, sure. I know that, but there she is, this woman who has spent her entire life modelling for portraits, coins and stamps, herding corgis, weathering family debacles and waving in a peculiar fashion. And I never stopped to think – what is it you actually do? [Listen to this post]
And this week, I found out. And the answer was slightly embarrassing. Just in as much as it’s entirely obvious. As head of state, the Queen’s job is to stand up and say to the government: right, you lot – here’s what we’re getting done this year. And then she reads a list of bills that Parliament are going to discuss – and possibly even make decisions about – for the next 12 months. It’s the State opening of Parliament.
Each sentence begins: “My Government will…” – which makes everything sound like a bit of a fait accompli – but there’s a real tension between respecting the authority of the crown and the democratic process that goes along with laboriously (or conservatively) arguing the pros and cons of each particular thing that “My Government” will do. The use of the possessive pronoun is also fraught with political implications.
Monarchy and democracy are such odd bedfellows that it’s quite gratifying in a sense that it all seems to hang together as well as it does. I know it’s not fashionable to be a monarchist – and I’m all in favour of the concept of democracy as a good in itself. Surely the opposite of democracy is the opposite of good. It seems churlish to move to a country and then publicly denounce its system of governance, but I do have certain qualms about members of royalty reminding members of the general public that they should remember their place.
That said, democracy’s based on the idea that a million idiots are smarter than one – and it is a vaguely encouraging aspect of a monarchical system that there is such a high degree of on-the-job training. There are no polytech courses on nation state leadership, and while only barbers and taxi drivers truly know how things should really be, it seems that having been an academic, a primary school teacher, a banker or a farmer is an insufficient CV for the job of being in charge of a whole country of people. Here in the UK, as to a lesser extent we do in New Zealand, the population is able to hold two mutually exclusive political systems in their collective consciousness at once.
My Government will…
So what will your government? Well, there’s identity cards. That you have to pay for. £80 for the right to have another piece of plastic in your wallet that more or less states ‘I waive my right not to tell you everything about me. Please place me under surveillance.’
Sounds good to me. Of course, arguing against identity cards makes you seem all soft on terrorists, so the chances of that one going through are pretty good.
My Government will continue to modernise the constitution and institutions of our country. That seems to be going well. This week, OfCom have announced that deregulation of the radio spectrum seems like a fabulously good idea. After all, it seems to have gone so well in the colonies.
In fact, I’d doubt there was a single person at OfCom who’s even looked at what happened to the New Zealand radio industry as a result of deregulation. Or if they have, they’ve either asked a representative of CanWest, a representative of Clear Channel or a representative of the Radio Broadcasters Association – a body whose job it is to represent the interests of CanWest and Clear Channel.
In fact, one of the most important jobs that Steve Maharey has in front of him as Minister of Broadcasting in New Zealand is to fix the damage done by the wholesale deregulation of the radio industry 15 years ago.
Clear Channel, naturally, already have offices in the UK. They’re toying with billboards at the moment, but the second the rules about foreign ownership come off, they’re going to pounce. And I’m not sure a nation accustomed to four commercial-free television stations and multiple public service radio broadcasters is going to cope terribly well.
But here’s what’s really missing in Britain. And it’s something that I miss about New Zealand. Local community radio. Radio for communities of interest. Radio for communities of place. The best kind of radio stations that are for like-minded individuals to talk to and with people like themselves – and say, here’s something new you might like – listen to this record.
You have to take the bad with the good. The monarchy with the democracy. The community radio with the wholesale deregulation. The swings with the roundabouts.