Life, Treasure, and the Commonwealth: 28 September

This blog has become too heavy: too much on what’s wrong with life. I’ll try and mix it more. I still, though, have a streak of Victor Meldrew…

Last week’s funerals went fine. At the end of the last one a mourner told me about his bad back. After some discussion, we prayed, there and then, at the crem. A first time for me. ‘That was strange,’ he said, not about being prayed for, but about the feeling that had come over him. ‘There was warmth on my back and .., well…, all I can say is that it felt strange.’ He was bemused but happy.

The Staffordshire Treasure was dug up 5 miles from where I live. 1500 gold and silver pieces lying in a field for about 1300 years! Now the contest is on for who keeps them.

Immediately the treasure has been declared the property of the Queen, ‘to stop them being sold abroad.’ What’s so wrong with some of the pieces being sold abroad? We need to keep and display much of the treasure in this country, of course. But why all 1500 pieces? That’s too much for anyone to take in. Let’s sell 500 pieces to the Commonwealth and America and use the money to build a great exhibition for 1000 pieces here.

Plenty of people in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and America have family roots in Britain. The treasure is part of their ancestral history just as much as it ours. (My father was an immigrant to Britain, so I don’t have as much of a claim to need to look at the treasure as many people who emigrated from Britain.) Those emigrants took very little European treasure with them. Their museums are empty. The great Getty museum in Los Angeles has marginally more good art than the New Art Gallery in Walsall.

People in our Commonwealth, and beyond, who trace their family history to Anglo Saxon Britain, might happily pay to share some of our amazing, abundant, treasure. Sharing the treasure in this way would underline our common heritage, strengthen the ties between us. Or is no-one interested in strengthening the Commonwealth?

My daughter recently visited Buckingham palace – as a tourist. She found an exhibition celebrating 60 years of the Commonwealth this year. That’s the first any of us have heard of this great Anniversary. Britain needs to value the Commonwealth much more, not out of pride in our Imperial past, but for our future as a nation.

The British Empire was not all glorious. Global selfish intimidation and brutality were fundamental, as they are to any Empire. There is much of which we need to repent. But there were also good works, more than any other Empire in history. These good works have left goodwill behind, not only resentment. Former colonies want to be part of the Commonwealth, want to keep ties with Britain. South Africa emerging from apartheid joined the Commonwealth before any other global institution or fellowship.

The Commonwealth should be valued more highly as a political and economic fellowship. I don’t think we would have made the costly mistakes of Afghanistan and Iraq if we had considered as a Commonwealth how to respond to the attacks of Sept 11. Britain needed the views of Canada and Pakistan, particularly, countries most closely involved, as well as other, more neutral, countries. A common approach would have been much better than Britain running along behind America, urging other countries to join. For present and future global issues, Britain needs a global point of view, which we can gain through seeking a common approach across the Commonwealth.

Economically too our future, as our past, is as a trading nation. In Europe we are marginal, geographically and economically. We are on the fringe of the economic hub of Europe. It makes no sense to manufacture in Britain or import to Britain and then transport it across Europe. We cannot prosper through the European economy alone. In the world, though, we can be a central piece in the jigsaw – the connecting piece between Europe and the Commonwealth. As we promote and enable trade between Europe and the Commonwealth, including manufacturing for export to the Commonwealth, we can prosper.

Far more people in Britain have relatives and friends in the Commonwealth than in Europe. We take part in both the Commonwealth Games and the European Championships. That is Britain’s true place, connecting both groups. The Commonwealth has been down played for years in favour of Europe. It is time to play up the Commonwealth. Celebrate sixty years of the Commonwealth and strengthen it as a key part of Britain’s future.

Roger Harper

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