Monday 9 March 2009

The idea of the Commonwealth

Happy Commonwealth Day! Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah has a Guardian piece reporting some new polling on the Commonwealth from the Royal Commonwealth Society, of which he has recently become director.

This April marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the modern Commonwealth, as the Queen will note in her speech today. I think this can be claimed as a rather Fabian moment, in that it was the creative achievement of two of my great political heroes, both committed Fabians, Clement Attlee and Jawaharlal Nehru, as prime ministers of Britain and India. They agreed the London declaration of 1949 which paved the way for India to remain in the Commonwealth on becoming a Republic, with the King having a new role as Head of the Commonwealth.

This gave the Commonwealth a significant role in the post-colonial world, symbolising a new partnership of equals. Today's survey sets out some challenges of sustaining its relevance. On the other hand, with the first Indian Secretary-General in post, Kamalesh Sharma, there are also opportunities to seek to reverse this reversing power's somewhat detached role in the Commonwealth after Nehru.

I would also like to see the Republic of Ireland join the Commonwealth, as has occasionally been mooted, by Mary Robinson and others. I think that could be a significant symbolic moment in Irish-British relations, though I also favour it for personal reasons. And perhaps the spirit of George Bernard Shaw would approve too.

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