Promoting Crown and Commonwealth Unity
Alistair McConnachie reports from the London Conference organised by the Australian Monarchist League. The following is an edited version of the report which appeared in the December 2006 issue of Sovereignty.
A unique Conference took place at Imperial College, Kensington, on the weekend of 28-29th October 2006. Care-taking staff must have been puzzled at the array of flags bedecking the background behind the speaker's podium. What could be going on here? Here was the Union Jack, the Australian and New Zealand flags, the modern Canadian flag and the old Canadian flag.
It was a Conference organised by Philip Benwell (above), Chairman of the Australian Monarchist League, and titled "The Queen, the Realms and Europe". Its purpose was "to explore the impact of the EU treaties on the British Crown and the Commonwealth Realms" - those nations which have as their sovereign, HM the Queen.
Those are: Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, Mauritius, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Saint Christopher and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, and the United Kingdom.
Benwell has been at the forefront of defending the constitutional role of the Crown in the Australian constitution and his organisation was instrumental in helping to deliver the pro-monarchy victory in the Australian Referendum of 6 November 1999. He said, "Whenever a politician attacked the Queen, we attacked them! They realised they were losing votes. Eventually the republicans realised they had better not attack the person of the Queen."
Noel Cox, Professor of Constitutional law at the Auckland University of Technology and visiting fellow at the University of Cambridge spoke on how the Crown link sets the realms apart from the rest of the Commonwealth. New Zealand is the only country, apart from the UK, to have the title of "Defender of the Faith". Cox said that Prince Charles is seeking continuity at the same time as he is trying to accommodate changing circumstances.
It was pointed out from the floor that "Defender of the Faith" originally referred to the Roman Catholic faith. Furthermore, back then, the title was fidei defensor and since Latin does not have a definite article, it meant "Defender of Faith."
How strong is the republican movement in NZ? Not very! He explained that when he was asked to debate the subject on a recent morning radio show, it couldn't find anyone to speak for the republican cause. He said there was perhaps more republican sentiment than organised republicanism.
Roger Helmer MEP gave a good anti-EU presentation although, unfortunately, in common with all the other speakers who spoke against the EU, did not particularly address the monarchical theme of the Conference, other than to point out that "common ties of language, culture and history count for a great deal" and Britain's membership of the EU had "betrayed the Commonwealth" and was "downright bad policy" because our share of trade is higher with "Anglo-sphere countries than with the EU" and being part of the EU's trade policies hurts us.
Others who spoke around the EU theme were Ashley Mote MEP, Christopher Arkell, tax accountant, and author Lindsay Jenkins. Sunday morning began with Mark Wallace, Campaign Manager of the Freedom Association. Philip Davies MP spoke on the EU and was, "Absolutely certain that one day it will happen, and we will leave the EU. Every year there will be more and more people saying that we should leave. The debate is well and truly started". Leolin Price QC echoed these views.
Philip Benwell read a report which had been submitted by North American Charles Coulombe which stated that the monarchy helps to distinguish Canada from the USA. It gives it an identity which is distinct. He suggested a separate gate at immigration - and a separate lane at customs - would be a powerful reminder of the bond which exists between Britain and its associated Commonwealth realms.
Blythe Stason, Professor Emeritus of Law at the Northern Illinois University spoke on the Anglo-Saxon character of the Commonwealth, and that it was characterised by, "a sense of fairness, calmness, sound genius for political organisation, and quiet governmental benevolence."
John Clemence, who chaired the whole event and who is a Vice President of the Royal Society of St George, gave a very thoughtful presentation on our history and the way our sense of identity is interwoven with our national institutions. He stated that most European countries are not over 200 years old. However, the history of Britain - although the average Briton may not be much aware of it to any great extent - including crucially the continuous presence of the Monarchy, has given the British a sense of enduring identity. Whenever a significant effect takes place the British instinctively know what is required. The liberal elite was confounded by the public's reaction to the Queen's Golden Jubilee. We carry a lot of historical baggage, he said, including our sacrifices and our successes and these have built up a strange mixture of admiration and resentment throughout the world. These decisions and actions both present and past, are reflected back into our own community.
Let us conclude this report by asking whether the Crown is really threatened.
Isn't the good news that it is actually very strong! We saw at the 50th anniversary of the Coronation that the monarchy enjoys widespread support. Its survival in the UK is not threatened by any organised republicanism.
In a changing nation and world, people are looking for symbols, icons of enduring identity, reassuring dignity, elevated character. In a changing world, people are looking for continuity and consistency, for something which is just always here, today, tomorrow, and the day after. The monarchy is that institution and represents a nation's sense of identity in a way that a here-today, gone-tomorrow politician simply cannot.
The monarchy is hugely culturally significant - a cultural possession which makes Britain quite distinct. It is a national icon of great value - a sacred icon - and that is not necessarily to mean a particularly religious icon.
If the monarchy is threatened by anything, it is threatened by indifference - by a sort of "what's its point" carelessness - which doesn't realise the value of something until it is gone. Certainly, this attitude could potentially be exploited by a media set against it, if people did not understand or appreciate the value of this institution.
We believe the monarchy will always be with us, and will retain strong support. However, only if we work to ensure people understand its value. That means constantly communicating, educating, and convincing. For our part, we will keep providing a forum - such as this internet site - for these issues to be reported, and advocated. We will continue to build up a body of easily accessible knowledge and information that supporters of the monarchy throughout the UK and the world, can access easily and use to good effect. Please help us by donating to our efforts.