A debate discussing the relevance of the Commonwealth in the ever changing global scenario was held at the University of Cambridge on 12th April 2018. The event attracted students from the university as well as local residents who had connections with the Commonwealth.
The event was held up in the run-up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) and was mainly aimed at increasing engagement of the local community with the Commonwealth. The list of speakers included eminent individuals such as Prof. Patsy Robertson, Dr. Nicholas Watts and Prof. Jane Chapman, who all spoke against the motion. Interestingly, all of our student debaters, Deepa Iyer, Jaspeet Singh and Darrel Blake, spoke for the motion. The event was moderated by Mr. Mrittunjoy Guha Majumdar, a PhD student who was previously co-chair of the Commonwealth Society.
Arguments against the motion
Prof. Chapman opened the arguments for the opposition by bringing into perspective the shared post-colonial heritage of language, culture and common law across countries of the Commonwealth. She stated that the organisation consisted of a mix of the old and new, thereby providing an opportunity to champion ‘growth for all’. She was backed up by Dr. Watts, who reiterated that the Commonwealth was one of the few international organisations that offered ministerial access to civil society and also how the various countries were working together to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Prof. Robertson took us back to the times of the South African apartheid and said that the Commonwealth had the influence to meet Nelson Mandela when no other organisation could get access. She went on to give examples of how the organisation had facilitated training of civil servants when erstwhile colonies became independent and brought focus on the youth programs of the Commonwealth which focused on the aspects of citizenship and peacebuilding. While highlighting all the past and present achievements of the Commonwealth, the speakers seemed to agree on some level that the organisation has underestimated potential and the media needs to focus on better reporting.
Arguments for the motion
The arguments for the motion focused more on the colonial history preceding the Commonwealth. Jaspreet Singh spoke about how reconciliation is required, rather than establishment of free trade agreements. He also pointed out that most people recognise Commonwealth through the Commonwealth Games. There were discussions about racism faced by people from the Carribean who arrived in the UK by Darrel Blake, and how to some extent it is still existent today. Deepa Iyer put forth a very structured argument by saying that the organisation lacks a relevant structure, transparent process and apparent ownership. She spoke about how a lot of the Commonwealth countries still have anti-LGBT laws and the organisation is not doing enough to curb other atrocities such as FGM and intimate partner violence. Overall, the student speakers seemed to highlight that the Commonwealth was not working on its public relations and that it was a ‘gentle anaesthetic on post-colonialism’.
The House Votes
At the end of the heated debate, the floor was open to the audience to engage with the speakers on any questions related to the arguments made. The opposition won the debate by a very narrow margin and the House believed that ‘The Commonwealth had a future orientation’.