More than 80 per cent of Britons value either America or Europe over the Commonwealth. And despite a third of the world’s population belonging to it, most are relatively ignorant about its history, purpose and significance. Yet in an increasingly globalised and interconnected world, the Commonwealth actually matters more than ever, and today’s youth should be at the forefront of this.
The Commonwealth Youth Forum — part of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting — took place between the 15th and the 18th of April. The 47 young representatives from across the UK were able to make policy recommendations and organise initiatives oriented around the new kinds of challenges faced by the Commonwealth — and their recommendations will hopefully shape global policy decisions.
Moreover, it is young people who have to be in that boardroom discussing these issues and ultimately shaping the future of the Commonwealth — because they are the future of it.
As Anna Barker, who chairs the British Youth Council has said: ‘It’s absolutely right that young people are at the heart of shaping the future of the Commonwealth’.
It is crucial that we establish cross-cultural connections and understanding with the rest of the world. Of course, globalisation necessitates this, but it is also because in an increasingly tense political climate, where some nations seem to be looking inwards rather than outwards (not naming any names), we have to maintain strong relationships with all of our neighbours.
This is why the Commonwealth matters. People often seem to dismiss it as just another needless anachronism, another UN, more unnecessary bureaucracy. But it is more than that. We should not simply abandon the shared history which the Commonwealth represents. Equality and respect lie at the heart of it, and in relation to the undeniably thorny subject of the British Empire, values such as these are more important than ever.
The Commonwealth is a recognition, and ultimately a celebration, of the emancipation of Britain’s former colonies. The Commonwealth does not celebrate British imperialism, but rather democracy, freedom and if anything, anti-colonialism.
Member states have no legal obligation to one another, but are united by a shared language, history, system of government and culture. It is important in some ways for Britons to acknowledge that what they perceive to be ‘British culture’ is in fact shared by other nations across the world. Too often, people forget this. Take cricket, for example, which is Indian as much as it is British. In fact, even the English language is not strictly ‘ours’.
The challenges which young people have been discussing at this forum are unique, because they are global issues. How to tackle the worldwide environmental crisis, sustainability, nuclear arms, multiculturalism, human rights, cyber-crime — to name a few. These issues cannot be addressed through any other means; a global effort is needed. That is the point of the Commonwealth.
It is young people who have to take the lead in moulding the future of the Commonwealth, and by extension, the direction of globalisation within the next ten, twenty, thirty years. It is down to us, not a bunch of ageing, pinstriped bureaucrats who won’t live to see it.