I have spent today in London. Part of it I spent working but this afternoon I went to Westminster Abbey to join HM the Queen and representatives from the 53 Commonwealth countries in celebrating both the achievements of the Queen’s reign and the on going importance of the Commonwealth.
Some people seeing this will no doubt think that this was a waste of time. Obviously I disagree not least because at least 35,000 of my fellow citizens of Liverpool were born in or are descended from people born in commonwealth countries.
Some will say that the Commonwealth is an anachronism – a relic of a faded colonial past which should be forgotten. Well that view was not shared by the people from the 53 countries and their High Commissions that were present. They are not all ex British colonies either. There have been three countries join recently, The Cameroons and Rwanda, which were former French colonies and Mozambique, which is a former Portuguese colony. The newest country on Earth, South Sudan has applied to join although its links with the former Empire are tenuous. There are even countries in North Africa known to be considering membership.
So what is the Commonwealth? Let me use the words of a poem written for the occasion:
A free association of independent member nations bound by
Friendship, loyalty, the desire for
Democracy, equality, freedom and peace.
There are no big battalions at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. No sordid machinations at the Security Council where China (or the UK) can block the world. It is a group of nations who peacefully come together to work for the common good.
That should be used more for Liverpool’s good too. When I went to Ghana about 3 years ago I met first the Secretary of the Merseyside Ghanaian Association. He introduced me to his sister who was the Health Minister in the Ghanaian Cabinet. I recently met members of the Kenyan Association and have arranged to meet them, again before I visit east Africa in the summer.
Today I met the High Commissioners of 5 countries and talked to them briefly about how the members of their Diaspora communities in our city can be deployed to further mutually rewarding trade, education and cultural links. So many of the national associations in Liverpool keep strong links with businesses, politicians, churches and communities in their former country that we could use to further Liverpool’s trading position. They all thought that was a good idea and have offered to help through the Royal Commonwealth Society. I will be following this up with both them and their communities in Liverpool/Merseyside.
I want Liverpool to be a major European City but a major European city must know its place in the World. Liverpool’s wealth was founded on the former Empire. Much of it good contact buts some of them, notably slavery, were bad. Liverpool has a good name. There were more Liverpool FC shirts being worn in Nigeria than I have seen anywhere in the world.
Today has reinforced my view that the Commonwealth can indeed work for the common wealth.