Flying the flag for Commonwealth Day

The Commonwealth Day flag flying on Watton's clock tower. Picture: Ian Burt

The Commonwealth Day flag flying on Watton's clock tower. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

Some still fly the Union Jack and bear the Queen on their coins, and today a collection of countries which span the entire globe will be recognised for Commonwealth Day.

The fallout from the British Empire has borne a loose collaboration of nations, and town councils across Norfolk will be raising the Commonwealth flag as a mark of respect.

At Norwich City Hall children from Bignold Primary and Nursery will meet the Lord Mayor for a minute's silence, as they reflect on what the Commonwealth means for us today.

Prof John Charmley, Head of the Interdisciplinary Institute for the Humanities at UEA, said despite a history of violence and racism, the modern Commonwealth could have a part to play on the world stage, particuarly in the event of Brexit.

Before self-rule was granted to India and a handful of African nations, it was known as the 'White Commonwealth', and elements of the Tory party led by Winston Churchill battled against allowing independence to other nations.

'That separated the Commonwealth out from India and black African colonies,' said Prof Charmley.

'We then get a long process where smaller states become part of the Commonwealth. The advantage for them is to become part of this much larger political block. 'They are then independent but amalgamated because they are like a daughter with Britain as a mother.'

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Prof Charmley added the prospect of rising economic and political powers including China made the practicality of the Commonwealth more important.

'A large public element of support is being held together by the presence of the monarch, but I think it retains what one might call soft powers,' he said.

'If you are a small African nation you may have very little power, but if part of the Commonwealth, larger countries like Australia and Canada will listen to you on a bigger forum. It still offers an opportunity for smaller powers to be able to speak with a stronger voice.

'We are no longer dominated by two superpowers so there are now power blocks that have risen. We now have interests in parts of the world where it is quite useful for us to have a say. 'We can talk with India and Pakistan about what is happening in Afghanistan, counter blocking the Chinese influence in the region.

'This gives Britain an original power block we would not be able to replicate. We hear a lot about little Britain, but without the Commonwealth we would certainly be little European.'

Prof Charmley also nodded to a positive feature to emerge from the remnants of the British Empire.

'The positive is despite the fact there was a hard racist line, that wasn't the line that prevailed,' he said. 'Large parts of the Tory party were against independence for some of the non-English speaking nations, saying they would not have the ability to rule themselves.

'Thankfully that attitude was defeated.'

This year's theme is 'An inclusive Commonwealth.' 'Fly a Flag for the Commonwealth' unites the 53 Commonwealth countries in a collective aspiration for 'progress and prosperity, with fairness, justice and opportunity for all.'

More than 850 Commonwealth flags will be raised in towns and cities throughout the UK and Commonwealth countries on the day.