July 22

British politicians question relevance of Commonwealth.


The British Government has questioned the continuing relevance of the Commonwealth.  According to a report in The Age (19/7) by Paola Totaro, the  Government suggests the  Commonwealth needs to "prove its worth" in the 21st century and to find new ways to stay important.  

One would have thought that if any institution needed to prove its worth, it is the present British political class, mired as they are in the expenses scandal.

Launching the Royal Commonwealth Society's “Commonwealth Conversation” project in London, Foreign Secretary David Miliband controversially said that one of the problems of the modern world is the lack of “strong, effective international institutions …  with formal power." 

 That of course rules out the Commonwealth.   He admits that by  virtue of “its unique membership — east, north, south and west, all races, all religions, all regions — I think it can be an effective soft-power institution which at the minimum can help spread understanding and, at best, help promote common action." 


 …British politicians have failed the Commonwealth… 

  The Foreign Secretary said  that continuing political and financial support could no longer be taken for granted.Is the Foreign Secretary serious? 

The funding of the Commonwealth is derisory: for 2005/06, the Secretariat’s budget was £13.5 million, the CFTC’s £24.1 million and the CYP’s £2.5 million. And that is from everyone – the UK contribution is only a fraction of this.  How much does the UN, or worse the EU, cost the UK taxpayer?

Had British politicians over the last few decades relied on the benefits of the Commonwealth instead of entering the EU, the British public would be vastly better off, and Commonwealth links maintained.  

The British politicians misled the nation in claiming that Britain would be rewarded by being put  “in the cockpit”, leading Europe in the modern world.  

But in fact for years the EU continued to be dominated by the Franco –German axis. The British were relegated to being the biggest paymaster after the Germans. 

A comparison with Norway shows how well off the British people would be today had they not been mislead by their politicians.

Britain could have concentrated her interests and resources where they are appreciated, the Commonwealth. She could have continued to enjoy the benefits of free trade, about which her politicians endlessly talk, but do not apply.The Commonwealth could have supplied Britain’s food needs at a fraction of the cost paid over the years by the British consumer.

The politicians were driven by self interest, the desire to be more important internationally. We have only recently learned how truly disgraceful their self interest can be.

(Indeed Mr. Miliband has been criticised by the UK Taxpayers Alliance for recouping expenses for personal tax advice from an allowance to fund office  costs.)

But in failing the Commonwealth and the support countries like Australia New Zealand Canada and others gave to Britain in her darkest hours, successive British politicians in recent decades have failed the British people. 


…the Foreign Secretary’s agenda… 

But let us return to the admonitions of the Foreign Secretary. He also warned against, of all things, the elites of the Commonwealth – Australia and Canada – monopolizing its leadership. 

Mr Miliband said he felt the Commonwealth should refocus itself on three priorities: the pursuit of democracy, the fight against global warming, and education worldwide.  

 …Commonwealth Conference…

 The project for this will be driven by an open, interactive website designed to stimulate and host discussion and ideas about the future of the institution.

Mr Miliband said he hoped he and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown would be able to attend CHOGM in Trinidad in November armed with a greater sense of the misconceptions people have about the Commonwealth and what they would like to see the family do in future. 

(“CHOGM” is the rather unfortunate  acronym used to refer to Commonwealth meetings of prime ministers and presidents.)

….How old is the Commonwealth?… 

And by the way, what is all this about the Commonwealth being 60 years old. Surely it goes back to 1926 or 1931?  The Commonwealth is I think 83 years old, although it was called the British Commonwealth in the early years.  A change of name, yes. But surely not a new organisation.              


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