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Saturday, 29 October 2011

New royal succession rule will have far-reaching impact

This is the kind of announcement that politicians love because it was a bombshell. In Perth at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, which was opened by the British monarch, it was announced yesterday that the rules of succession to the British throne would change in two material respects. A daughter can now enter the line of succession over a younger brother, for a start. The story was given precedence over other stories on the websites of the Guardian and the New York Times and this will be a much-discussed alteration of the political reality in many countries (there are 17 countries that recognise the British monarch as their head of state, including Australia, New Zealand and Canada) and not just those. There are 54 Commonwealth countries, for a start. Then there are the people who live in other countries that have a monarch, such as the Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium and Spain. The odd thing is that the media were caught completely off-balance. There had been no inkling of such an announcement in the days leading up to the CHOGM meeting. Sure, the Queen was to attend, but nothing in the way of preparation. The PR embargo was tight, and it worked.

So now we know. Of course, the current succession will not change. Prince Charles is older than Princess Anne (pictured), and Lady Di produced two useful sons in quick order. But a daughter born, say, in the next two years, to Prince William and Kate Middleton (the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge) would be next in line to succeed to the British throne.

Canada's Globe and Mail and the New York Times credited those two with accelerating the rate of change to succession rules, but I don't think it's material. The Queen is looking ahead and Britain's prime minister David Cameron - who himself made the announcement in Perth - has obviously been looking to do something about the outdated conventions, for some time.

The other rule that has changed is that, 500 years after Henry VIII split with Rome to form the Church of England, a British monarch can now marry a Catholic.

The reverberations of the first change will be widespread and enduring. Children and parents in countries where daughters are murdered soon after birth because of the taint of the female gender will live different lives, perhaps, because of the Perth announcement. Mothers telling stories to their little daughters will be able to make the point out that, yes, they have equal chances in life because, 'Look, now William and Kate, if they have a daughter first, she can become queen.' Romances and tales of wonder need to have this kind of message embedded in them so that children can dream and grow, without complicated answers being needed from unhappy parents.

But the fact that there was no heads-up in the press in Australia prior to the announcement is further proof, if any more were needed, of the irrelevance of the monarchy here. The New York Times notes that the issue had been discussed in London as part of "a series of unsuccessful attempts in Britain’s Parliament to change the succession rules in recent years". First I heard of it, David. And Australian prime minister Julia Gillard apparently told delegates that Australians supported the changes. First I heard of it, Jules. The manoeuvre to contemporaneanise the British Crown is clearly a success, and one that noone Down Under saw on the horizon. It might change the way some people view the Crown. It might give the Crown more "legs" in this country. It might do all these things. But if it stops one Indian couple killing their daughter because they cannot countenance the shame of bringing a girl child into the world, then it is a fine thing indeed.

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