Sixty Joyless De-Britished Uncrowned Commonpoor Years (1949-2009)

Elizabeth II Vice-Regal Saint: Remembering Paul Comtois (1895–1966), Lt.-Governor of Québec
Britannic Inheritance: Britain's proud legacy. What legacy will America leave?
English Debate: Daniel Hannan revels in making mince meat of Gordon Brown
Crazy Canucks: British MP banned from Canada on national security grounds
Happy St. Patrick's: Will Ireland ever return to the Commonwealth?
Voyage Through the Commonwealth: World cruise around the faded bits of pink.
No Queen for the Green: The Green Party of Canada votes to dispense with monarchy.
"Sir Edward Kennedy": The Queen has awarded the senator an honorary Knighthood.
President Obama: Hates Britain, but is keen to meet the Queen?
The Princess Royal: Princess Anne "outstanding" in Australia.
H.M.S. Victory: In 1744, 1000 sailors went down with a cargo of gold.
Queen's Commonwealth: Britain is letting the Commonwealth die.
Justice Kirby: His support for monarchy almost lost him appointment to High Court
Royal Military Academy: Sandhurst abolishes the Apostles' Creed.
Air Marshal Alec Maisner, R.I.P. Half Polish, half German and 100% British.
Cherie Blair: Not a vain, self regarding, shallow thinking viper after all.
Harry Potter: Celebrated rich kid thinks the Royals should not be celebrated
The Royal Jelly: A new king has been coronated, and his subjects are in a merry mood
Victoria Cross: Australian TROOPER MARK DONALDSON awarded the VC
Godless Buses: Royal Navy veteran, Ron Heather, refuses to drive his bus
Labour's Class War: To expunge those with the slightest pretensions to gentility
100 Top English Novels of All Time: The Essential Fictional Library
BIG BEN: Celebrating 150 Years of the Clock Tower

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

"The Commonwealth@60"

IT NEVER WOULD HAVE OCCURRED TO ME that the Commonwealth was born in 1949. In fact, it would have never occurred to me that the Commonwealth was even born at all, merely a long evolution that had its origins with the British Empire, which eventually transpired into a free association of independent Commonwealth states. But if I had to choose a date, it most certainly would not have been the London Declaration of April 26, 1949.

queenelilizabethtp-761895The term 'Commonwealth of Nations' was invented by Lord Rosebery on a trip to Australia in 1884. The first meeting of colonial heads of government was held back as far as 1887 and there were many that followed, including the all-important imperial conference of 1926 that resulted in the infamous Balfour Declaration, whose pronouncements were formalised by the Statute of Westminster in 1931.

Indeed, the Statute of Westminster was until very recently considered the real beginning of the modern Commonwealth, because for the first time each country was legally recognised as equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations. It was a truly transformative development.

On the pages of the Commonwealth Secretariat you will even find that Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand "joined" in 1931. (Interestingly they are mute on when the United Kingdom "joined".) Certainly, the significance of 1931 cannot be overstated. The Imperial Commonwealth at that point stood for independence, equality, unity, allegiance, patriotism and free association of its members.

1949 is noteworthy only as a weakening of those things. The dropping of the British pedigree, the end of our united allegiance to the King, the loss of our common patrimony, all in order to make way for the newfound Republic of India, who would not countenance associate membership. The London Declaration was the moment the British Crown Commonwealth became de-Britished, unCrowned and Common-poorer, in that the wealth we had in common became much less so.

1949 was the point in time when our monarchy was demoted to the status of symbol in order to make way for republicanism. We were no longer required to recognize the King as our sovereign, only as the symbolic "Head of the Commonwealth". As a result, Commonwealth republics now outnumber Commonwealth realms, but even more apparent than republicanism, was the ever increasing political need to turn the page and erase from historical memory our so-called "colonial legacy". Her Majesty herself on coronation day in 1952 gave an indication of this desire:

"The Commonwealth bears no resemblance to the empires of the past. It is an entirely new conception built on the highest qualities of the spirit of man: friendship, loyalty, and the desire for freedom and peace."
The spirit of that international fellowship technically still lives on, but nobody gets excited about the Commonwealth anymore. The popular fraternity - our pan-Britannic patriotism - has evaporated forever. Admittedly, our cultural loyalty may have gradually withered anyways, and certainly culture and identity are increasingly complex notions in the 21st century. But if defending the British Monarchy or an "English Queen" on the basis of national identity now seems like an increasingly remote possibility as we head further into the cosmopolitan mire, that path was firmly set in motion back in 1949.

Sixty years of celebration. Yippee and hooray.


Bolingbroke said...

All that is left is some pretty thin gruel, alright. Why even celebrate the death of our former glory?

Anonymous said...

It depends on what you see the Commonwealth's function is. If you see it as a way of expressing a shared, non-American but Anglophone cultural inheritance, then you're wrong. In 2009 that's fulfilled in one way or another by the Royal Family - if not shared allegiance, than a shared interest in its activities and procession through modern life.

The Commonwealth does seem however quite useful as a tool of international cooperation and statecraft. It is a crossover between a chunk of the OECD and the "South". It is a clearing house for anglophone countries to keep "in sync" in evolution of changes to law, parliamentary practice, etc. And it is probably the only international conferences where the PMs truly relax and "shoot the breeze" - because there is no agenda. Loads of ex Commonwealth PMs who were sceptics have become fans after a CHOGM or two.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery - and look at the Commonwealth copies. But none of them work anywhere near as well, as the original.

The Commonwealth is never going to be "Empire MK II" serviced by Wimpys, Austin Minors and Marks and Spencers everywhere, with all tuned to the World Service. THAT possibility died with Heath and the EEC in 1973.

But for its modest objectives, I think the modern Commonwealth does its job fairly well.

Anonymous said...



CommonwealthMonarchist said...

You might be interested in these Canadian papers of the time on the subject:

This paper and the preceeding and succeeding ones offer the reader much of interest, such as the alternative proposals, the reaction to them and the thoughts of the "Old Commonwealth" on the "New Commonwealth". One almost wishes that some of the other compromises (e.g. having the Governor-General replaced by the President, not the King replaced by such an office) had instead come to fruition.

Anonymous said...

I stumbled onto this site while looking for an image of EII. My first look was the article on the "Commonwealth@60". My reaction to the article was "what a bunch of crock." The Commonwealth has worked, survived, and thrived precisely because it has changed over time and reinforced with the great admiration that people in its member states have for its EII. Moreover, it served as a stabilizing element during the Cold War, or for newly independent, and well-behaved, former colonies. No other former colonial power can say that it has such a relationship with its former subjugates.

When I meet people who are from other Commonwealth countries, an instant connection exists because of this shared institution. Too bad its current incarnation isn't enough for some people.