The mood in Whitehall is that the Commonwealth could be Britain's biggest asset...
On Friday, we participated in another fascinating discussion at Asia House, attended by senior ministers, diplomats and business leaders. This time the subject was Britain’s role in the new world order. Perhaps counter to expectations (given the rather gloomy view westerners have of their long-term prospects these days) the general mood in the room was that Britain was well-placed to continue being a major player on the global stage. The key points that emerged were:
- The global order is changing. Britain can no longer deal primarily with the US and Europe and pretend the rest of the world no longer exists
- As power moves south and east, Britain needs to find a way of plugging into the new political and economic networks that are developing
- The Commonwealth, usually regarded as nothing but a useless relic of empire, provides the ideal starting point for moving into this new era
- With over 2 billion people and already vast flows of FDI, the Commonwealth is an existing network that has the potential to become a dynamic engine for growth
- While some members of the club have not exactly been paragons of good governance (Zimbabwe, anybody?), Britain is relatively well-placed to push for democracy and transparency in these countries, thereby ensuring justice for their citizens and internal conditions conducive to investment and business. However, a danger, which must be avoided, is that such calls for political change become too Anglo-centric. This would open Britain up to renewed charges of neo-imperialism
- In this rapidly changing world, such is the attractiveness of the Commonwealth to outsiders that apparently countries are queuing up to join. Interestingly, this includes a significant part of Francophone Africa…