Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Anglophiles will be the death of the Commonwealth

A Union Jack and a service in an Anglican Church... hardly the future of the Commonwealth (2011).
Today is Commonwealth Day, a day meant to celebrate the modern Commonwealth of Nations. Hardly anyone in New Zealand - or the rest of the Commonwealth - knows about it.

The day has passed with very little to celebrate it, apart from a few stereotypical events: a service to mark Commonwealth Day a Holy Trinity Cathedral in Auckland (Anglican only, of course, yet still billed as a "celebration of diversity"!), the Royal Commonwealth Society in Auckland raising the Commonwealth Flag (I suspect much to their disappointment, not the Union Jack), and another flag being raised at the Wellington waterfront.

This is all very frustrating to me. The Commonwealth is a very useful organisation for New Zealand to be a part of. As Don McKinnon pointed out in his book In The Ring (on his time as Secretary-General of the Commonwealth) the organisation provides New Zealand with a number of advantages in terms of international connections and opens doors for us. It is in our national interest to be a member. It does a lot of good work for democracy, education and human rights internationally as well - work which gets very little coverage in New Zealand.

I'm sure there will be some who think it is hypocritical of me to support the Commonwealth while being a republican. That's exactly the source of my frustration. The monarchy sits too close to the Commonwealth, to the point where many people associate the positives of the Commonwealth to the monarchy (the common argument I heard while campaign chair of New Zealand Republic was opposition to a republic on the basis that New Zealand couldn't then compete at the Commonwealth Games). This is of course deliberate on the monarchy's part, as part of a wider strategy to promote itself. But the reality is that apart from the Head of the Commonwealth, the monarchy has little to do with the organisation, of which the majority of members today don't have the Queen as their head of state.

Back in 2009, the Royal Commonwealth Society in the UK - ironically much more forward looking than other Royal Commonwealth societies across the globe - warned that the Commonwealth was fading from the public's consciousness, even in Great Britain, and that this is undermining the future of the Commonwealth in the long-term. In its 2010 report, following an extensive public consultation under the "Commonwealth Conversation" banner, the society pointed out that the Commonwealth:
"...risks appearing to be little more than an imperial relic."
The report recommended greater engagement with more people. Five years on, that hasn't happened. Instead, the same Anglophiles who dominate the monarchist scene also run the Commonwealth groupings. Commonwealth Day emphasised this fact again: the celebrations, such as they were, were heavily Anglo-Saxon and protestant in nature. This is a tragedy, because without broader support, the Commonwealth will eventually die an unlamented death. If it does go, it's clear that ironically at this stage it will be the fault of the Anglophiles.

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