(Photo credit should read DAN PELED/AFP/Getty Images)
Commonwealth leaders could decide this week on who takes over from the Queen as head of the organisation, Downing Street has said. Prince Charles is the front runner, but the position isn’t hereditary, and some suggest that it should be rotated around all the leaders.
Does it matter? Well, yes. Free market supporting Brexiteers tend to get excited about the Commonwealth because its existence proves that Britain has allies outside of the EU. The most optimistic even suggest that post-Brexit, the UK could help to turn the Commonwealth into a trading bloc, not unlike the old Common Market. There are major feasibility questions about this proposal, but there is logic to it, and it shouldn’t be scoffed at.
Much of the Commonwealth has a shared language, overlapping administrative and legal systems (largely based on English common law) and a shared heritage. It contains half of the world’s top 20 emerging cities, and 60% of its combined population (of two billion) is under 29. It may have begun as a nod to history, but it continues to exist because it’s a useful network in a globalised world – and its members believe that it has a future.
For Britain, which needs all the friends it can get at this particular juncture, the Commonwealth matters, and the question of who leads it is important.
To many the answer is obvious. The success of the Commonwealth so far has been largely down to the dedication and commitment of Queen Elizabeth. Aged 21, she committed her life to the “service of the great imperial family”, and she has stuck to her word. She has steered the organisation through various crises – including apartheid in South Africa – with perfect grace, and deserves the universal respect she holds. She has been supported all the way by her son, Prince Charles, who has taken over many of her overseas visits in recent years, and has spoken passionately on numerous occasions about his own dedication to the organisation. He seems like not just the obvious successor, but the most qualified one too.
Doubting his commitment, as Kate Osamor MP has done, is churlish. The fact that she “doesn’t really know what he’s been up to of late” says more about her and her interest in the Commonwealth than it does about his actions. But his dedication doesn’t necessarily mean that he should succeed.
Thanks to the Queen’s commitment and personal investment, the Commonwealth today is more than just a legacy from the days of empire. It has become a thriving, diverse organisation, with real potential to strengthen and expand in an era where bonds based on geographical proximity matter less and less.
Sixty years ago, when the Queen took over from her father, only a British monarch invested in empire would have been able to keep the Commonwealth together. Now, thanks largely to her, it is cohesive enough to hold shape on its own.
Prince Charles would make an admirable successor, but if the Commonwealth is to modernise, grow, and live up to its promise, now may be time for it to shake off its imperialist roots. And symbolically, that may mean that the British monarch must stand aside to give states such as India a chance to lead.