Sharing Discussing Understanding

Commonwealth Journalists' Association

Photo by Raj Bandara

By Richard Synge, CJA-UK member and Consultant Editor for Global magazine

The question of whether the British royal family should continue to head the Commonwealth in the 21st century was raised in a lunchtime debate staged by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in Westminster on 18 April.

While the Queen has been and continues to be an outstanding Head of the Commonwealth for the past 60 years, “the Commonwealth might be well advised to look outside the House of Windsor” for its next Head, said former BBC TV Court correspondent Michael Cole.

Claiming that the roles of constitutional monarch and Head of the Commonwealth “are far from compatible”, he suggested that an election of a new head would make the Commonwealth more relevant and would enhance its influence in the world.

Professor Vernon Bogdanor of King’s College London disagreed, noting that the role of Commonwealth Head is entirely symbolic and has no political function. As the Commonwealth itself currently does not have any ultimate authority over its individual members, he suggested that the very act of choosing a new Head would require it to have a Constitution and the resulting pressure could undermine the association. He concluded: “I accept that the monarchy is an illogical institution, but so is the Commonwealth!”

Photo by Raj Bandara

Bill Cash, British MP for Stone, sided with Professor Bogdanor, noting that the Commonwealth is “a network and not a superstate”. He feared that the act of electing a leader could turn it into a political institution and “create magnetic pulls” that would undermine it.

Chairing the session was the new Director of Commonwealth Foundation, Vijay Krishnarayan, who noted that the debate is an important one that coincides with ongoing discussions about a possible Commonwealth Charter.

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