By Martin Roche, Etoile Partner
Early in March a rather frail Queen Elizabeth ll signed The Commonwealth Charter at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace. For the first time, this organisation of 54 sovereign states has agreed to a written declaration of the values and “16 core beliefs” that bind the Commonwealth together. Cheers and celebrations all round you’d think. Well actually the reception for the Charter was, if the UK media is representative of global opinion, extremely muted.
What a shame, say I. Have we become so jaded in the world that we don’t jump for joy when politicians and countries act from the finest motives? Have we stopped cheering for human and civil rights, for democracy and civilised conduct in the affairs of humanity? Are we consumed by scepticism simply because some signatories to the Commonwealth Charter have pretty poor records on protecting their own citizens, or are we so jaundiced by the way of the world that we dismiss all efforts to make it better as simply wallpaper?
If all that is the case then we are not in good shape in the world. I for one want to celebrate the good men and women of the Commonwealth who worked so hard to get the Charter committed to paper. They have achieved much to be proud of.
First, every nation of the Commonwealth can now be held to account at the court of global opinion. When, and it will for some be when not if, they fall short, the world can point to The Charter and ask why they have failed to live up to their written, signed and agreed set of core beliefs.
The Commonwealth, with its new Charter, has given itself a moral force it perhaps lacked until now. It as a body has won for itself the moral authority to speak for good because all its members have signed up for good. It has with the Charter given itself the potential to be a far more vocal and persuasive force than hitherto.
Two years ago, we at Etoile commissioned a piece of independent research about the Commonwealth among some very important opinion formers and business and political decisions makers. The starkest finding was that very few of these highly educated, worldly aware and well-connected people found it easy to articulate what the Commonwealth was for and where its values lay. They can’t say that now.
Stand up and wave some flags. Ring out the sound of joyful trumpets. Let choirs sing songs of rejoicing, for in March 2013 the Commonwealth found its way in the world. Where it had seemed directionless, vague and to many a post-colonial club of doubtful legitimacy, it now knows what it is and what it is for. It’s the best news I’ve heard in the field of international affairs in many a long year. But it must be simply the beginning. Now the Commonwealth must use every opportunity and every technology to take these new messages of hope to the world.
A new dawn has arrived for the Commonwealth. It will take great effort, great reserves of political capital, some money, endless imagination and moral courage to turn The Charter from powerful rhetoric to the stuff that stays the hand of violence and injustice, stimulates democracy and wins the hearts and minds of men and women to win a better world.
The Charter had a muted response to its birth. Let’s us wish it a long and successful life.