Commonwhat?

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William Hague wants Britain to pay more attention to expanding the Commonwealth, apparently.

So far, so non-controversial – although it does invite the question, why? I’ve never really got what the Commonwealth is for. Sure, it’s fun (I assume) for these countries to get together and enjoy their shared heritage; and if you leave out the taint of imperialist aggression and appropriation of these nations’ national resources and cultures, there’s still plently left over. Cricket for one, and railways…and a lot of them do have the Union Jack on their flags.

I’m sure there must be even more to enjoy when the show is run by Britain, the country which did the colonizing and is now running the post-independence nostalgia trips.

But Hague seems to think that the Commonwealth should increasingly have a beefed-up role as a Foreign Policy tool. I’m really not sure what recommends the Commonwealth over other multi-national bodies on this count: the only similarity between most Commonwealth nations is that they all suffered at the sharp end of British colonial aggression (not even all – Mozambique, for example, is a Commonwealth nation but was a French colony). I fail to see what end is served – for Britain, the rest of the Commonwealth nations, or the world – by using the Commonwealth like this.

Also, how could the Commonwealth be used? Is he suggesting a security alliance like NATO? Or a trading bloc like the EU? The Commonwealth has no institutions (currently) to serve these ends, and I’m not sure that any further shared sovereignty would go down well with the Tory grass roots (whether with the EU or with former British colonies).

Quite apart from that, I’m not sure what other Commonwealth nations will make of today’s statement. They may be pleased and flattered that a man aiming to be Britain’s Foreign Secretary wants to give them a bigger role; or, they might be less pleased that their former colonial power seems to want to keep them tight for its own benefit.

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