New Zealand: Should Kiwis celebrate an English tradition?

Guy Fawkes Night: an anomaly or what?

Like many, I toured parliament in Wellington which is steeped in the Westminster tradition yet has morphed into a singularly New Zealand institution with a unicameral chamber and enforcing select committees replacing the work previously undertaken by an upper house. The Upper chamber is now a (very grand ) room later used as a parliamentary long bar, but now employed as a meeting hall for use on such occasions as a visit by the Queen, the country's head of state. 

The thing that strikes any visitor is the grandeur and history of the place, juxtapositioned as it is with Basil Spence's modern (1964) "Beehive" governmental complex next door. Yet the wood carvings reflecting Maori culture remind any visitor of the 18,800 km or 11,682 miles between this place and the Palace of Westminster in London.

So, why should New Zealanders feel any affinity for the traditions of those colonial forebears, those who hacked, sweated and ingeniously invented their way to help forge a modern New Zealand? Why should Kiwis celebrate a Bonfire Night, when 255 years before even the Treaty of Waitangi the English developed a tradition which was so very specific to England? 

Guy Fawkes Night, with all its fireworks, is an explosion of patriotic fervour celebrating self-determination. In catching Guido Fawkes and thwarting the Jesuit Catholic inspired Gunpowder Plot to assassinate King James I at the 1605 state opening of parliament, the English kept their head of state, their developing democracy and their rule of law.

The 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, a founding document of New Zealand, was preceded in England by a series of charters or events which limited the powers of monarchs and developed democracy, including:

Magna Carta 1215
Simon de Montfort's Parliament 1265
The Peasants' Revolt 1381
Petition of Right 1628
The Trial and Execution of Charles I in Parliament 1649
Bill of Rights 1689
Combination Acts 1824/5
Reform Act 1832

So, for those like Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which follow the Westminster parliamentary model, November 5th is also an opportunity to celebrate their own changed, freed and developed democratic institutions and conventions.

Guy Fawkes Night should inspire the pluralistic democratic practices of even distant New Zealand. For otherwise to lose the memory is to lose the knowledge.

November 5th, a night to celebrate. As New Zealand nears its latest general election on November 26th, this should be something to think about today: there would not be real freedom without the vote.

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