Of Commonwealth, Buggery Law And Ditching The Queen (Gleaner 02.11.11)

Dennie Quill, Gleaner Columnist

Jamaica Gleaner Company

THE THEME for the recently concluded Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference in Perth, Australia, was ‘Building National Resilience, Building Global Resilience’.

Jamaica was absent from that meeting principally because of changes in the leadership of the Government. However, I don’t think we lost anything. It would have cost a substantial amount to take a delegation to what, essentially, is another ‘talkfest’.

Apparently, I am not alone, for our absence from the meeting seemed to have triggered little comment and no anxious notes – except from the Opposition – were sounded by civil society.

One could justifiably conclude that the people of this country care little about a vanished empire and are far more interested in whether we march with confidence into the next 50 years, or crawl on our posterior.

I have had a look at the final communiqué from the Perth meeting and it could have come from any of the previous meetings as it repeated the age-old call for reform to make the institution more responsive to members’ needs.

Pro-gay reforms

What was new was the strident call by Britain for the reform of legislation banning homosexuality. An estimated 41 nations of the 54-member grouping have laws banning homosexuality – a legacy of British laws which have been adopted by many former colonies.

For more than a century, the British empire ruled the world, with trade playing a pivotal role in that domination – trade in commodities and humans, particularly. Not to be forgotten is the fact that Britain mobilised resources of the colonies to assist the imperial war effort.

Even though Britain experienced a precipitous decline in its fortunes as an imperial power, its legacy to the world includes the English language and the rule of law, which has provided the basis for a legal framework that guarantees stability and economic growth.

With mounting nationalist sentiments coming to the fore, especially in the early 1960s, many colonies were given independence with a promise that links would be maintained via a commonwealth of nations that is committed to cooperating within a framework of common values and goals which include promotion of democracy, human rights, and good governance.

The values and systems of the British empire largely persist within the Commonwealth of 54 nations, where all but two (Mozambique and Rwanda) were former colonies of Britain. Their work is carried out through a permanent secretariat based in London and biennial meetings are held among Commonwealth heads of government.

Britain’s possessions in the West Indies now include Anguilla, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Montserrat, Turks & Caicos Islands, and the British Virgin Islands.

Referendum on queen

A criticism of British foreign policy, advanced with increasing frequency these days, is that Britain has little or no commitment to its former colonies.

Often the question has been raised whether Jamaica ought to become a republic and replace the Queen as head of state. Interestingly, the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner has also suggested that Britain consider whether the monarchy should be replaced. Britons have rejected this call, saying the Queen is for England a source of unity and national pride.

Such a decision must be decided by a referendum.

We are now preparing for a general election, so what about placing the question of whether to go republic on the ballot? It seems like a really neat way to get an answer without incurring great expense.

Dennie Quill is a veteran media practitioner. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and denniequill@hotmail.com.