60 Years of the Commonwealth

The Queen is set to attend a special service at Westminster Abbey, to mark 60 years of the Commonwealth. Representatives from all 53 Commonwealth nations are expected to be in attendance.

The Commonwealth theme for 2009 is ‘the Commonwealth at 60 – serving a new generation’, and perhaps this is timely, as a recent YouGov survey revealed that while many feel positive about the Commonwealth, only 35% of 18 – 34 year olds would lament the decision for the UK to withdraw. This poll, commissioned by the Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS) would suggest that the importance of the Commonwealth to young people is in decline.

Dr Sriskandarajah of the RCS responded to the survey by saying that the Commonwealth needed to continue to ‘reach out’ to young people. In her Commonwealth Day message, the Queen echoed the sentiments of the RCS, saying that ‘nearly one billion people of today’s Commonwealth are under 25 years of age; these are the people that this association must continue to serve in the future.’

Perhaps the reason for this dwindling interest in the work of the Commonwealth is a result of straightforward lack of knowledge; a mere 20% of people surveyed were able to name an activity undertaken by the Commonwealth, and of those who could name one the overwhelming majority pointed to the Commonwealth Games.

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Encouragingly 42% of those polled said that they would be unhappy about the UK withdrawing from the Commonwealth, while only 4% said that they would be happy. However this is slightly marred by the fact that a startling 55% said that they either did not mind or did not know.

8% of 18 – 34 year olds surveyed thought that the US was a member, and 3% believed that Barack Obama was the head. 1% thought that Bono, lead singer of Irish rock band U2, was the head of the Commonwealth.  Worrying stuff.

The Commonwealth’s greatest strength comes from the fact that it is a highly diverse group of countries and peoples, from every continent and at every stage of development, who share common values. If it is to make it through another 60 years, the Commonwealth needs to pull-together and promote this message, in order to make it more relevant to young people today. For more information visit www.thecommonwealth.org.