So the Prime Minister preferred to carry on running the country while the queen pontificated about something or other. Predictably, this was seen as an insult to the queen. Coupled with a report about Commonwealth prime ministers not bothering to dine with the Prince of Wales and his wife, it seems that Commonwealth leaders really are terribly rude.
Or are they?
These are, for the most part, elected heads of some of the most robust democracies in the world. I don’t mean robust in the sense of rough and tumble, but in the sense that both the institutions and the practice of democracy is strong. The leaders of democracies gathered at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting can truly said to have been chosen to lead by their fellow citizens. Sure, not everyone in this country will have voted for Helen Clark, but if John Key, or whoever, is elected next year, then he or she will just as surely be the leader of our democracy as Helen Clark is now. Not because everyone has voted for him or her, but because the great majority of citizens in this democracy will have participated in the democratic processes that have resulted in him or her becoming leader.
And who is the queen? And the Prince of Wales? Nobodies. Nobody chose them, nobody trusts them with any real power, nobody wants them to actually rule. By simply being born in the
right wrong place at the right wrong time, they get to swan around, invoke inherited privilege, and demand that we treat them with respect. The position of the Prince of Wales’ wife is no better. She has done nothing on her own account to be entitled to respect, simply married into the Windsors.
I see no reason not to treat the Windsors with common courtesy. But common, ordinary old courtesy is all they should get. If I were to send Helen Clark an invitation to dinner, I’m sure I would get a polite note back, saying “Thanks, but no thanks.” Ordinary, common courtesy. I have no right to make demands on her time, I have no right to expect her to listen to any speech I make, I have no right to compel her to act in any particular way, other than through the ordinary mechanisms of our robust democracy, functioning in the same way as it does for every other citizen. If anything, I have more right to approach the leader of our government than Elizabeth Windsor does, just because I am a citizen.
Rather than the democratically elected heads of Commonwealth countries being apotheosized as “rude” when they elect to spend their time governing instead of listening to these nobodies, the relics of the House of Windsor should be seen as rude, for even beginning to think that they have a right to take up the time of Commonwealth heads of government. Elizabeth, Charles and Camilla, you are the rude people here.