At the age of 70, Prince Charles has finally got himself a job. Head of the Commonwealth. Though he won't have to learn how to set an alarm clock quite yet. He has to wait until the present incumbent, his 92 year old "mummy," vacates the post.

Charles' anointment last week by the Queen and Commonwealth leaders eerily echoed the way they do such things in North Korea, or more topically, in Cuba, where 86-year-old Raoul Castro was at the same time, presenting his eventual successor to the local politburo.

In London, a similar ritual took place. First, a big slap-up meal in a royal palace, then with bellies full, the Queen sent the delegates off to do their duty after delivering her "sincere wish" to them, that they leave the job, "started by my father in 1949" in her family's safe hands.

And so it came to pass.


So less messy than having a robust debate, or perish the thought, a democratic vote. Our former prime minister Helen Clark said as much to the BBC before the ritual began. There was already enough "argy bargy" over issues such as who will be secretary-general and who will host the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, (Chogm) she said. "What you don't actually need is another set of argy bargy over who is head of the Commonwealth."

The 53 leaders agreed. Prime Minister of Grenada, Keith Mitchell, even rather alarmingly declaring it a good decision because the young men of the Commonwealth needed a strong male role model!

One of the few questioning voices seems to have been British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn who told the BBC's Andrew Marr that after the Queen, "I think the Commonwealth ought to really get a chance to decide who its own head is in the future … I think maybe it's a time to say well actually the Commonwealth should decide who its own president is on a rotational basis."

Illustration / Peter Bromhead
Illustration / Peter Bromhead

To me, a simpler solution would be to abolish the role of "Head of the Commonwealth" altogether. That would certainly eliminate the argy bargy of a selection battle, along with the lingering resentment amongst the losing blocs. The United Nations Organisation has survived even longer than the Commonwealth, without a titular "head."

Like the Commonwealth, it has a Secretary-General and that's that. The UN Security Council does have a presidency, but that's rotated around members each month in alphabetical order.

The Commonwealth website is distinctly vague about the functions of the "Head," saying the role "includes a number of symbolic functions" without identifying any. The true head, it seems, is the Secretary-General, currently Baroness Patricia Scotland, who "is responsible for representing the Commonwealth publicly, and is the chief executive officer of the Commonwealth Secretariat."

In addition there's a "Commonwealth Chair-in-Office", a two-year role held by the head of state of the country that last hosted the two yearly Chogm. That's now Britain's Mrs Theresa May. With a Chair-in-Office, and a Secretary-General, why have yet another "head" man or woman?

To me, that role is just a Linus blanket for the British to clutch on to and pretend the sun has not yet set on their Empire that once marked a quarter of the globe a rich imperial red. Today, Anzac Day, when we mourn the 18,000 or more young New Zealanders who died a century ago in the last of the great imperial wars, it's sad that the British and their royals still seem to be able to snap their fingers and have the whole of that old empire genuflect.


I'm all for supporting and belonging to a Commonwealth that represents a quarter of the Earth's land mass and is home to one-third of the world's population. But to be relevant it needs to stop letting itself be used as a relic of empire and a nostalgia trip for the British.

In 2012 it adopted a Charter committing itself to uphold 16 values, including gender equality, international peace and security, oh yes, and democracy. Selecting a hereditary aristocrat from the old "mother country" to lead us into the 21st century, makes a mockery of this commitment.