I don’t know Mummy, first it was Obama and now it’s my own daughter-in-law they want. Anyone but me…
I couldn’t help but be amused by the Guardian’s recent report on the meeting in London for Commonwealth leaders and their novel suggestion as to who should succeed the Queen of England, as and when she quits or dies.
Prince Charles, the Queen and British PM Theresa May were in no doubt that it had to King Charles lll. Ex-dominion founder member states Canada and New Zealand thought so too. The Australians however were playing hard to get. After all, even if it hadn’t actually been called the British Commonwealth since 1949, his mum had been in the job for nigh on 66 years and was it not still sort of, well – British? And – dash it all – did he not deserve the job having worked so long as second Royal fiddle? Hadn’t he and Camilla just travelled to Brisbane to open the 21st Commonwealth Games, because the Queen now 91 no longer did long-haul tours; and had he not sucked up to the Indian and Singaporean PMs on the way over?
Alas, Labour leader Jeremy Corbin, no monarchist he, was quick to suggest that perhaps it was time to rotate the position among the leaders from one of the other 53 member nations.
Anyway, now the subject has been raised, with Prince Charles’ cap firmly in the ring, Commonwealth leaders withdrew to Windsor Castle in secret conclave to discuss the issue, but no puff of smoke emerged from the castle to announce a newly anointed at the time and no news has emerged since, indicating it may be no slam dunk for Charles.
For readers who are not from the UK, the former Dominions or colonies of the British Empire you may wonder why any of this matters? After all, what does the organisation do other than stage something to be called the Commonwealth Games midway between Olympics?
What may be missed is that for the last 60 years, ever since British influence ceased to dominate, the Commonwealth has been a superb arena for the exercise of soft power among the 35% of the world’s countries who speak English, with the added benefit that it does not include the Americans. The rules are pretty relaxed: all you have to do is behave yourself resonably well when it comes to human rights and generally be pro-democracy. A sort of cozy Davos for world leaders in which to schmooze, and cut an unfamiliar dash on the world stage, without Uncle Sam there to throw his weight around. Add a touch of pageantry, what’s not to like? After all, unless you really break the rules, like Idi Amin or Mugabe say, you can get away with most things. If you are really bad and get expelled, you can always get back in later letting a few of your opponents out of jail, once they no longer present a threat, and be welcomed back into the fold with open arms.
While Corbyn’s suggestion to rotate among member nations appears an obvious alternative to Prince Charles and the hereditary custom, it does have drawbacks.
Australians may recall how ex-Liberal PM John Howard, a far more astute monarchist than the unfortunate Tony Abbott, was able to game the referendum his way by proposing that Australia’s President or head of state should not be elected by popular vote but chosen by parliament. Given the choice a majority of Australians, who almost certainly would have voted for a republic otherwise, thought they’d be a lot better off with an absent Elizabeth Windsor than a succession of self-serving pols and party hacks. That may not work today as the news is that both Australian parties now want Australia to be a republic and they may get it right this time, allowing all Australians the right to vote for their Head of State.
Since getting a decision on a new head from among 53 nations of all shapes and sizes might be no walk in the park the Windsor option does have its merits.
Perhaps the Guardian came up with the best suggestion by far. One that would give the organisation added clout and avoid all inter-member squabbling. Since member nations can choose anyone they like, and nowhere is it said that it must be one of their own number, why not ask Barack Obama if he’s up for the job?
Adrian Batten is an ex-Fleet Street journalist and all-round media man who has spent the last 40 years in South East Asia. He now divides his time between Hong Kong and Bali, where he lives with his wife, French designer Nicole Moja.