Friday, July 25, 2014

The Commonwealth - a bad idea whose time never came.

The Commonwealth stretches back to 1948 - the year Britain finally gave up that Jewel in the Imperial Crown - India. I doubt that there was ever much point to the Commonwealth even then.  It was a device to soften the blow of the loss of Empire and in part to reduce the guilt that Britain rightly felt for its Imperial past. If, the logic perhaps went, once colonies can voluntarily gather together in a "Commonwealth of Nations" then the British Empire can morph into this new construct so proving that the Empire had a valuable unifying value even across disparate nations. But the only thing that held the Empire's countries together was sovereignty - the British Monarch was the titular head of state of all of them. Take that away, and the logic breaks down. True a few Commonwealth countries still have The Queen as head of state - a preposterous anachronism that will surely go with her passing. But that aside there is nothing holding the Commonwealth nations together except pomp and waffle.

Were the Commonwealth to have some logic over and above pomp and sentiment then maybe a case could be made. If, for example, membership required Nations to adhere to agreed minimum Human Rights standards then that would be something. But many of the current members still have the Death Penalty and others criminalise homosexuality. Democracy is absent in some Commonwealth countries and shaky in others. It is not even an economic club, nor could it ever become one. The idea of "Commonwealth Preference" rightly withered on the vine. There are plenty of transnational bodies around which have logic and purpose. Starting with the United Nations and, of course, including all the increasingly important regional economic partnerships. 

The test of anything is how non members see it. Would an American, or a Brazilian or a Chinese praise the Commonwealth? I doubt that most of them would even have heard of it. 


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