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Rediscovering the Great British Republican Tradition



For a Civic and Constitutional Republic


Issue No 46 Friday 24 July 2009




This week 


  • The Commonwealth Of Nations Is Good News. So Why Do We Ignore It?


  • Britain’s Economy Is Still In Real Trouble



News Stories

Highlighting news stories important to the Civic Republican view, particularly those that are overlooked or little covered in the main media.





  • The Commonwealth Of Nations Is Good News. So    Why Do We Ignore It?

Leaving aside the United Nations and military treaties there are two international organisations to which the Kingdom belongs. Until 1973 there was only one and that one was a constant and regular feature of news stories and foreign and domestic policy decisions. In was taught about in schools, it was part of the national consciousness. It was a source of pride and satisfaction for most of the Kingdom’s citizens and most of the citizens of its member states.

All that changed in 1973, when the Conservative government under Edward Heath took us into the other international organisation of which we are still a member and within a very short time the first international organisation was supplanted by the second in national awareness and in prominence in news stories and foreign and domestic policy decisions. The second organisation was accepted by some but not by others. Those who agreed with membership of it did so for mainly practical reasons often citing national interest. Almost no one talked about it in terms of pride or satisfaction. Some were interested in it as an ideal but they were few in number.


Rays or stars?

The way in which membership of the European Union has taken over from that of the Commonwealth as the most important (non-defense) international membership we are committed to was predicted at the time of the referendum regarding EU membership that took place in 1977. The Commonwealth is a joining together of developed and developing nations in search of common purpose and interests. The European Union is a joining of nations of the developed world only. It was always likely that a club of exclusively rich nations would assume priority over one with a mixture of both rich and poor.

It is a curious fact that the only times when anyone seems to bother to talk about the Commonwealth is either in relation to the four yearly Commonwealth Games or in relation to the Queen who it its head. In fact for many younger people, apart from the Games, the only time they may hear mention of the Commonwealth is during the Queen’s Christmas message for she always mentions it. As well she might, being its head, but it is to her credit nevertheless to put a word in.

Those who look in the back corners of the media may have noticed this week that the Commonwealth was actually referred to. Two things happened.


The first was that a global public consultation on the future of the Commonwealth was launched in London this Monday, 21st July 2009 with a call for its 53 members to “renew and refresh” it. No less than UK Foreign Secretary, David Milliband, launched the initiative and he certainly was not wide of the mark when he said “Too few people understand what the Commonwealth is for”.



Danny Sriskandarajah, Director of the RCS, speaking at the organisation’s headquarters in London, said: “We will ask people all around the Commonwealth - not just in Britain, and not just among the elites or the inner circle of the Commonwealth family - what they want out of the Commonwealth, what the Commonwealth can do to become more relevant in their lives.” David Milliband, praised the Commonwealth’s “important mission” and , in typical BrownSpeak, called for “greater unity of focus and collective effort”.  


The second reported event of this week was an exhibition on the ‘Queen and Commonwealth - The Royal Tour’ that will open this Sunday, 26th July at Buckingham Palace to run until 30th September 2009. Amongst other things, gifts presented to the Queen by Heads of State and Heads of Government during her visits will be on display. They are often local handmade items and craftwork. Presumably the items often have some ethnographic interest.

Both of these events are prompted by the fact that the Commonwealth in its modern form is 60 years old this year for it was in April 1949 that the so-called London Declaration was signed by the member nations’ leaders. At this meeting the issue of countries with constitutional structures not based on a shared Crown, but which wished to remain members of the Commonwealth, was resolved.

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 The Commonwealth comprises fifty-three of the world's countries, across all six inhabited continents. The members have a combined population of 2.1 billion people, almost a third of the world population, of which 1.17bn live in India and 94% live in Asia and Africa combined. After India, the next-largest Commonwealth countries by population are Pakistan (176 million), Bangladesh (156 m), Nigeria (149 m), the United Kingdom (61 m) and Canada (33 m). Tuvalu is the smallest member, with only 12,000 people.

Commonwealth leaders 2005


The world’s largest and smallest, richest and poorest countries make up the Commonwealth and are home to two billion citizens of all faiths and ethnicities – over half of whom are 25 or under. Member countries span six continents and oceans from Africa (18) to Asia (8), the Americas (2), the Caribbean (12), Europe (3) and the South Pacific (10). The land area of the Commonwealth nations is about 31,500,000 km2 (12,200,000 sq mi), or about 21% of the total world land area.

The majority of members (thirty-one) are republics, and a further five have monarchs of different royal houses. Sixteen members of the Commonwealth, known as Commonwealth realms, recognise the Queen as their head of state.

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The Commonwealth’s ruling body, the Secretariat, has set out the overall strategic focus, objectives and expected results of the organization for the four year period 2008-12. The Plan has two ongoing and interlinked Goals for the Secretariat reflecting the Commonwealth’s emphasis on the promotion of democracy and development:

Goal 1: Peace and Democracy

Democracy Pillar– promoting Commonwealth fundamental political values


Commonwealth dancers

Goal 2: Pro-Poor Growth and Sustainable Development

Development Pillar – developing national capacity of member countries

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The Commonwealth owes its origin to the British Empire as nearly all its members were once part of that Empire. However, what binds the members above all is their common language – English. This point is worth reflecting on. It means that in spite of all differences and geographical separation communication is easy. Conferences have no need of interpreters and documents no need of translation. (How different this is from the EU with its 23 recognised official languages.)

In spite of this membership is in reality more open than than we might imagine and this openness is something that seems to be increasing. At a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Uganda, last year it was agreed to broaden the membership base and it said that an "applicant country should, as a general rule, have had an historic constitutional association with an existing Commonwealth member". Previously the link had to be directly with Britain. Clearly membership is now open to vastly more countries than before.

Although the British government and media tend to turn their back on the Commonwealth, it enjoys considerable respect internationally. In recent years the Commonwealth model has inspired similar initiatives on the part of France, Spain and Portugal and their respective ex-colonies. For instance, France has created the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (International Organisation of Francophone Countries.


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Global spread of European Union countries


Although the RPGB is not campaigning to leave the EU, the anti-EU party, UKIP, makes some poignant comparisons between the EU and the Commonwealth. Paul Nuttall Researcher in the European Parliament, writes the following.


“In the second half of the twentieth century it was clear that the world was organising itself into economic blocs: NAFTA (North America), MERCOSUR (South America), ASEAN (South East Asia) and the EU (Europe). In signing up to the EEC (the forerunner of the EU) in 1972, Britain followed this trend and chose to join an economic bloc.

I would argue that … Britain must look elsewhere. The answer … is close to home: the Commonwealth of Nations.

None of the independent states that are members of the Commonwealth is asked to pool its sovereignty [as with the EU] and none of them has to adhere to crippling directives handed down from a central body. It sounds refreshing and all rather different from the EU.   

The Commonwealth includes nations with increasing populations and growing economies, in stark contrast to the EU with its ageing population and declining economic power. Therefore, whereas the Commonwealth opens up endless opportunities and enables us to look to the future, membership of the EU locks Britain into stagnation and firmly in the past.

It needs to be made clear that unlike membership of the EU, closer Commonwealth relations would not entail the amount of red tape that ties the hands of British businesses and our financial institutions. … It would provide Britain greater access to Canada’s natural resources, which can only be matched by those of Russia. It would mean cheaper food for British people …

Closer ties with the Commonwealth make economic and political sense. UKIP, with its policy of a Commonwealth free trade agreement, is the only political party in the UK that offers the British public a sound alternative to EU membership. It is an alternative that would rid Britain of the suffocating constraints of EU red tape and directives; it would allow Britain to trade freely with whomever it wanted to and would no longer put British sovereignty in jeopardy.  

There is plenty of scepticism and even hostility to the European Union. There is none towards the Commonwealth. This may be in part because people do not know about it. David Milliband’s speech at the Commonwealth’s offices this week was hardly reported. Imagine how different it would have been if his speech had been at the European Union’s offices.

Global spread of Commonwealth countries


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But we should know about the Commonwealth and value it. Everyone agrees that the world will become increasingly orientated towards the developing countries. An organisation that embraces both developed and developing world is one that is destined to play an increasingly important role – if only we will support it.

The Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS) has launched a process of asking for opinions on the future of the Commonwealth called the Commonwealth Conversation. So far in answer to the survey question: Do you think the Commonwealth is still relevant? 156 have voted as follows

·         Yes                       74%

·         No                         20%

·         Don't know          6%

So far, so good. If you feel the Commonwealth is important register your vote at Commonwealth Conversation.

It is a cliché that it is only bad news that makes the news. The Commonwealth is good news. It can play a vital role in the future of not only its members but the world in general. Britain naturally must play a central role but it needs to do more to show that its heart is in it.

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Antigua & Barbuda


Sierra Leone




The Bahamas





South Africa



Sri Lanka



St Kitts



St Lucia



St Vincent













Fiji (suspended)

New Zealand


The Gambia





United Kingdom


Papua NG







Zimbabwe (out)


























Recommended article of the week




·        Britain’s Economy Is Still In Real Trouble

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……. …….until next week