It is a day to celebrate the 2 billion people that live in today’s Commonwealth and the shared history that binds most of its 53 nations together. The Commonwealth gradually evolved out of the British Empire as nations gained their independence from British rule but decided that retaining a link with each other and the British Monarch was something that was worthwhile. When the Queen came to the throne in 1952 she was Head of State of most of the countries in today’s Commonwealth. Now she remains Head of State of just the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and a variety of other smaller states.
The Commonwealth has recently expanded to take in several states that have no direct historic connection with Great Britain, such as Cameroon and Mozambique, however, they all recognise Queen Elizabeth the Second as Head of the Commonwealth. It is fashionable in some quarters to denigrate British Imperial history and to mock institutions such as the Commonwealth but it is still held in considerable affection outside the UK.
Commonwealth Day was marked today by a multi-faith ceremony in Westminster Abbey and events across the Commonwealth. Canada always marks the day by flying the Union Flag alongside its Maple Leaf flag on Government buildings across the country in recognition of its largely British heritage and links to the British Crown. The Queen also delivers her annual address to the Commonwealth which is relayed around the world.
In an interesting gesture, the New Zealand Prime Minister John Key announced yesterday that he had obtained Her Majesty’s permission to restore the pinnacle of the Imperial Honours system to New Zealand. With immediate effect New Zealand its dependent territories such as Tokelau and the Cook Islands will add Knighthoods and Dames to the range of honours that can be awarded. This reverses the decision of the Republican leaning former Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark. At a time when it seemed that the continual direction of travel was away from links between the British family of nations, this is a welcome affirmation of our close history. Sadly now that Labour have taken control of Australia again, it seems that the Prime Minister there is determined to move the Republican agenda forward.
However, today is a day to celebrate the Commonwealth and the good work it does. Often this is unsung here in the UK but it is very welcome particularly in many poorer countries. Long may it continue.
Listen to the Queen’s Address to the Commonwealth.
There is a new Populus poll reported tonight for The Times tomorrow showing a 12% Conservative lead. This is very slightly down on last month and will be a disappointment for Labour following Gordon Brown’s trip to the US and all the attendant publicity it attracted:
Conservative 42% (no change)
Labour 30% (up 2%)
Lib Dem 19% (up 1%)
This poll is consistent with other recent polls, with the Conservatives maintaining a healthy lead and apparently on course for an overall majority.