James Duddridge: Now is the time for Commonwealth leaders to deliver a more sustainable future for all its citizens
This year Parliamentarians from 53 member states have an historic opportunity to help build a secure, prosperous Commonwealth, writes James Duddridge
With 53 independent countries, 2.4 billion people – of which 60% are aged 29 or under – and a combined GDP of $10.4 trillion, the Commonwealth is a vibrant and diverse organisation which promotes development, democracy and peace.
Alternative trading partners and the Commonwealth Games usually spring to mind for many people in the UK when they think of the Commonwealth. Rightly so. The cost of trade between members is 19% lower than non-member countries and the next Games will begin in April this year in the Gold Coast, Australia. The following will be in our very own in Birmingham in 2022.
But the other defining Commonwealth strength is our shared democratic values. For us at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association UK, advancing democracy is at the core of our work. We believe effective parliaments lead to more sustainable development across the Commonwealth.
This year, the Commonwealth’s theme – Towards a Common Future – will explore how the Commonwealth can address global challenges focussing on four sub-themes: sustainability, fairness, security, and prosperity.
It will also be the year when the UK will host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) – a major global event and one of the most ambitious hosted by the UK so far. The future of the Commonwealth depends on its one billion young people, and the April summit will have a strong youth focus, aim to build links between countries which offer young people access to knowledge and skills.
That is why ahead of CHOGM, CPA UK will host the first Commonwealth Parliamentarians’ Forum from 26 February – 1 March in London. It will be a valuable opportunity to ensure that those who represent Commonwealth democracies feed into CHOGM. Using varied techniques, the Forum will seek to draw out and share best practice, and enable parliamentarians to engage with CHOGM in a way they haven’t before.
Parliamentarians will then return to their capitals, better able to inform and influence their governments ahead of CHOGM itself, as well as be more active in the delivery and implementation of CHOGM outcomes. Following CHOGM, the host country takes on a two-year Chair-in-Office role, which the UK will hold from 2018-2020.
Both CHOGM and the Parliamentarians’ Forum will seek to address issues such as climate change, prosperity and Modern Slavery – building on CPA UK’s Modern Slavery Project which provides practical advice and support to Commonwealth legislatures in the pursuit of combatting modern slavery, learning lessons from the UK Modern Slavery Act 2015.
From Nauru, an island nation in the Pacific of 10,000 people, to the most populous country in the Commonwealth – India with its 1.2 billion people – Commonwealth countries will draw on their shared values and diversity to face a whole range of challenges and opportunities.
It is this strength through diversity which draws in former members such as the Gambia, which recently returned to the Commonwealth, becoming the 53rd member. Here at CPA UK, along with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD), we will be working with the newly elected Parliament of the Gambia on a two-year programme of technical assistance. We also look forward to Zimbabwe coming back to the Commonwealth family in the near future. Meanwhile CPA UK is delighted to have offered the Zimbabwe Parliament observer status at the upcoming Forum.
It is an exciting time for the Commonwealth. A vibrant and diverse organisation which promotes development, democracy and peace. A Commonwealth that includes half of the top 20 global emerging cities. Now is the time for Commonwealth leaders to deliver a more sustainable, fair, secure, and prosperous future for all its citizens – and for parliamentarians to help make sure they do.
James Duddridge is Conservative MP for Rochford and Southend East and chair of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association UK