How long will the Commonwealth survive? It’s a question that hasn’t aroused much attention in New Zealand, but – along with the whole relationship with the monarchy – it could become a major issue.
Commonwealth membership and the role of the monarch have a special importance for this country, because the Crown is at the centre of this country’s constitutional arrangements.
So we can’t say we haven‘t been warned when the headline on a feature in The Guardian in London asks:
After that disastrous royal tour, is the sun finally setting on the Commonwealth realms?
The Guardian article is written by Moya Lothian-McLean, who presents Human Resources, a podcast about Britain’s slaving history.
“Just how long has the British monarchy been in crisis? This time – after ‘Megxit’ after Prince Andrew – it was the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s disastrous trip to the Caribbean. What was supposed to be a ‘charrm offensive’, drumming up enthusiasm in the year of the Queen’s platinum jubilee, ended up looking more like a long goodbye, with the headlines spotlighting anti-royal protests, failures to address legacies of slavery, and the news that Jamaica is planning to ditch the Queen as head of state.
“It may well be time for the royal family to face up to the fact that the sun is setting on those final remnants of the empire that they once embodied – and not a moment too soon.
“For Britons, it can be easy to forget that the Queen’s realm and territories stretch far beyond these isles. Out of the 54 ‘independent and equal nations’ that make up the Commonwealth of Nations, 15 (including the UK) still count the Queen as their head of state. Becoming a republic doesn’t necessitate surrendering membership of the Commonwealth itself – it simply means a symbolic rejection of British rule. And with Barbados finally taking the leap last year, longstanding debates about republicanism have been reignited in the remaining realms.
“The issue is just as hotly debated in the likes of Australia (54% of people there would support becoming a republic) as it is in Jamaica, but packing William and Kate off to the Caribbean has inevitably focused minds in that region. Though republican camps in the Caribbean have long cited the impact of colonialism and slavery on the contemporary fortunes of their countries, a new reckoning is afoot, against the backdrop of the global Black Lives Matter movement and renewed conversations about the legacy of empire. Thanks to the attention the royals command, the disintegration of British overseas rule is being documented in real time”.
After discussing the impact of William and Kate’s visit to the West Indies, Moya Lothian-McLean notes that republicanism has been part of the political conversation in Jamaica since the 1970s, and there is cross-party support for the move.
“But now, debate has been replaced by decision. Emancipation is in full swing. It’s no coincidence that it comes as the Queen – who ‘made the Commonwealth central to her life when she became monarch’ – reaches the twilight of her reign. But nor can it be a coincidence that this is all happening after several years of governmental and monarchical misrule in London. …
“But with or without the Sussexes, there is an air of historical inevitability to all this. So, what happens next? Ahead of Kate and William’s visit, the Windrush campaigner Patrick Vernon said: ‘If Jamaica decided it did [want to become a republic], there would be a domino effect on the rest of the English-speaking Caribbean.’His words may well be prescient….
“At the very least, now is the time to admit that for many parts of the world, the benefits of sovereign British rule are most heavily felt by the home nation itself. Within our own borders, we may kid ourselves that the monarchy is still a glittering jewel in our crown. But for many people overseas who wish to escape the long shadow of empire and exploitation, the shine has well and truly rubbed off.”
This article may provoke a backlash from royalists but should enliven debate about the Commonwealth and those constitutional issues.