Call for president `to help Queen'

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The Independent Online
A BLAIRITE think-tank has called for the Queen's role as head of the Commonwealth to be downgraded and for the organisation to become "less British".

The Foreign Policy Centre - whose patron is Tony Blair and president is Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary - suggests that the Prince of Wales should not succeed the Queen as Commonwealth head when he becomes King, on the basis that he is "less interested" in it than the Queen.

In a report published today to mark the Commonwealth's 50th anniversary, the group calls for a president to be chosen from among the heads of its member governments, to "supplement" the Queen's role.

The report concedes that the Queen is popular in many Commonwealth countries and there is no support for removing her as it its head. "But the Commonwealth is hampered by her inability to speak publicly on key issues," it argues.

The group proposes that one head of government be elected by his peers for a two-year term, allowing a big political figure to raise the Commonwealth's profile.

"After the reign of the present Queen, the Commonwealth will have to reconsider this position - because it is granted by appointment, not hereditary right," says the report.

It describes the Queen as "the most powerful symbol of the Britishness of the Commonwealth". But it claims Britain is "isolated" in the organisation and says that other members must be given an equal sense of ownership for it to be revitalised.

To tackle the "Commonwealth's British problem", its secretariat should be moved out of London, perhaps to Cape Town or Delhi, the report says. "The price is worth paying for an effective Commonwealth no longer trapped by its past."

The Foreign Policy Centre is to draw up a blueprint for reform before Commonwealth leaders meet for their biennial summit in South Africa this November.

The centre's director is Mark Leonard who, while working for the think- tank Demos last year, published plans for sweeping changes to the monarchy, which were disowned by Downing Street. He is advising Mr Cook on how to "rebrand" the Foreign Office.

"Reinventing Britishness and reinventing the Commonwealth are two sides of the same coin," says today's report, Making the Commonwealth Matter, by Kate Ford and Sunder Katwala. A new relationship would help Britain to come to terms with its multi-cultural identity. "Fifty years ago the Commonwealth was launched with great hope. But Britain squandered the opportunity by refusing to let go of the past," the authors say. "Britain was unable to find a balanced position between seeking control and disengaging."

They argue that the Commonwealth is not an organisation crying out for a role, but that there is a role crying out to be filled by the Commonwealth.

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