I was watching Winston Peters announcing from the London meeting of the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers that Britain was now keen to resurrect the glory of the British Empire by putting together a trade deal between we proud members of the Commonwealth of Nations.
Pub quiz night: name the 52 members, outside Britain, of the Commonwealth of Nations. Did you get to 10? If so I think you are well above average. Did you get Lesotho, Tuvalu, St Kitts & Nevis, Belize, Malawi, or Swaziland? This Commonwealth has 19 African members, 7 Asian, 13 Caribbean & American, 3 European and 11 from the South Pacific.
The total GDP of these 53 nations is $US11 trillion which sounds impressive until you note that China on its own has $US12 trillion GDP and the USA has nearly $US20 trillion GDP. But if there is anything ‘common’ about them it is certainly not ‘wealth’. The top 4 countries in the group (UK, India, Canada and Australia) account for 75% of the total group’s GDP. The top 11 (where New Zealand is #11) account for 95% of the whole group’s GDP. So 42 countries out of 53 (79%) bring in only 5% of the total group’s GDP. The Commonwealth includes the three poorest countries on the planet. In the same pub quiz, name them! Answer = Kirobati, Nauru and Tuvulu. Bet you didn’t know any of them.
This Commonwealth alliance that today has little practical reason for being, has also bugger all chance of ever being a trading bloc especially when you consider that Commonwealth members Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia already belong to TPP bloc; India and South Africa already belong to BRICS; Cyprus and Malta are in the EU and the African nations have their own trading blocs.
We, the Commonwealth of Nations, are the largely-abandoned urchins of the British Empire who were left to fend for ourselves after Lady Britannia decided to go back to her Eurochums’ social circuit after their two little W.W.s were all forgiven and forgotten. Yes we do meet up for family games every few years, and play a bit of cricket together which is jolly good fun, but thats as far as it goes. If we ever go to visit mother England we will stand and wait in the foreigners’ queue while the Germans are welcomed through lovers’ lane.
But now there are spats in the Euro love nest, mainly about Angela the Hun letting riffraff in through the back door (not intended as a euphemism, but with Germans who knows?). But Britain is committed to leaving the European Union and so, whatever eventually happens with Brexit negotiations, Britain will be short of a few quid for a while and that is likely to make the rabble a bit restless and looking to bring back the guillotines. And like many an absentee parent finding themselves hung over, short of a few quid and debt collectors knocking, she remembers the forgotten family and reminds them that we are still family. So last week the Queen called a meeting of all the heads of their global families, perfectly timed right after the fun of the family games in Australia and immediately before her grand birthday party to which they had all been invited. She told them that she thought that we, as the family of the British Empire, might like to setup some sort of a trade thingy between us and, since she was getting a bit wobbly on her pins, perhaps we should put Charles in charge of it all. Did she really mean all 53 members of the Commonwealth? That would be an enormously daunting prospect for a trade deal, particularly given the disparity in populations, locations, cultures and economies. The EU only has 28 members and our Trans Pacific Partnership has twelve members. Is Charles the man with the experience and charisma to pull together the biggest trading bloc on earth? Especially given that 79% of the members account for just 5% of the wealth.
But perhaps I am being cynical? Maybe its not all about the size of your GDP. One thing Charles would bring to the leadership of any trade alliance would be a focus on ecological sustainability. You have to admit he was all over this ecological crisis way back when we could still swim in our rivers and drink tap water. And he has approached the challenges in a far more practical way than all the attention-seekers floating around in little boats with banners. Since buying Highgrove, a 15-acre estate, in 1980, the Prince has personally overseen its transformation from pasture land to what is now regarded as one of the most important gardens in the UK. His rejection of chemical pesticides and promotion of species once considered weeds attracted criticism in the 1980s long before the boom in organic gardening. His estate even includes an innovative sewage treatment system, using only reed beds to cleanse waste water from the house. The reed-bed waste system is an artificial wetland that converts sewage back to clean water, while allowing the solid matter to be returned to the soil in the form of manure. He has even built a biogas plant in Dorset to supply gas from food waste to 56,000 homes.
Is the Prince of Wales now girthed, girded and ready to lead the CommonWealth, re-named as the CommonHealth of Nations, in a global eco-war reminiscent of the Crusades? Fifty three disparate nations united under the banner of King Charles the greenheart, re-inventing trade within the commonwealth with a war cry of ‘sustainability before profit’. Is this the Royal intent?
I would love to think so, but I am quite sure the tragic reality is that Britain really does think they can resurrect the old bones of their 19th century trade Empire, or at least the ten biggest of us, and have us committed to all buying British solely to help balance their books after Brexit. In the words of Daryll Kerrigan, Australia’s only philosopher, “tell ’em they’re dreamin’.”