What is the future of the Commonwealth?
Recoded on the 15 June 2022
What is the future of the Commonwealth, as an idea and organisation for effective collaboration in today's troubled world? Should it be still headed by the British monarch, or should it have a revolving headship? In conversation with the Vice Chancellor of the University of London, Professor Wendy Thomson, the eminent economist and Member of the House of Lords, Lord Desai reflected on the relevance of the Commonwealth in an age of single issue identity politics, and how it can continue to evolve.
Summary of the event
Emphasising the sentimental, historical and longstanding association that the Commonwealth offers as an organisation Lord Meghnad Desai (Member, House of Lords) discussed the importance of the new Commonwealth with the Vice –Chancellor of University of London Professor Wendy Thomson and the Institute of Commonwealth Studies Director, Dr Sue Onslow . Lord Desai insisted that even though historically the Commonwealth had been mainly affiliated with the British Monarchy, the organisation is at a juncture where it needs to be recognised as a unique, egalitarian, global and diverse organisation. It has representation from all continents, and unlike global organisations such as the United Nations, the Commonwealth does not have a security council or Veto power. In his view, the Commonwealth’s great achievement is the Harare Declaration and its power to suspend countries, which the United Nations cannot do. He stressed that the Commonwealth is a friendly organisation where people have associations with each for many years.
Lord Desai stressed the importance of the relationship between the Queen as head, and the new Commonwealth. The new association came into being in the 1950s when India became a republic. This was a critical turning point for the Commonwealth, the majority of whose members are now republics. The success of the Commonwealth is that not only has it endured the test of time but also the countries want to be part of this historically connected family . The Queen's headship of the Commonwealth is not a constitutional matter but a very personal thing. When a change in the British monarchy happens, we are likely to see a transformation in the nature of the Commonwealth, as Commonwealth realms may shift to republic status whilst remaining committed members of the association. The Commonwealth as a global organisation has the property to develop- moving into the future. He argued the Secretary General-ship of the organisation should be a one term rotating position and be from smaller states.
In the Q and A session Lord Desai fully endorsed the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, and its location in London. The Institute of Commonwealth Studies had originally been established for the purpose of providing critical and robust debate on the Commonwealth and should be fully supported by the member states of the Commonwealth.
- Professor Wendy Thomson (Vice Chancellor, University of London)
- Lord Desai (Member, the House of Lords, and Emeritus Professor of Economics, London School of Economics)
This session was chaired by Dr Sue Onslow, Director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies.