Relaying the Commonwealth baton – Queen and media on-message

By John Hilley (Zen Politics)

baton 2With much media fanfare, the Commonwealth Games baton has now been sent on its royal-approved way from Buckingham Palace to Glasgow and onwards around the globe. As the BBC dutifully reported:

“The baton contains the Queen’s hand-written message to the Commonwealth and will visit all 70 competing nations and territories over the next 288 days. It will travel to Scotland on Thursday before heading to India for its first international stopover on 11 October. The baton’s journey will end at the opening ceremony on 23 July 2014, when the Queen will read the message inside.”

The royal ‘message’, we might assume, will entail some standard reiteration of the Commonwealth’s ‘mutual benefits’, sealed with a dedication of continued service to this ‘enduring community’.

With the baton being carried to and from the Palace by royal-honoured sports figures, it’s a message and imagery that will be grovellingly amplified in the coming months.

Reporters are already investing the baton with some mystical quality, anticipating the many who will now ‘touch the baton’ and ‘live its experience’.

Kudos, at least, to ‘spoilsport’ journalist Stuart Cosgrove who, while sincerely wishing a great Games event for Glasgow, spoke on Radio Scotland about the Commonwealth baton as an “exhausted” neo-imperialist promotion. Watching it leave:

“…Buckingham Palace, the heart and soul of Scotland, as you can imagine[…]I cannot lie and sit here and say I have the same level of enthusiasm for the post-colonial institution called the Commonwealth, I really can’t.”

The Queen’s Baton Relay will be covered as a travelling blog by the BBC’s Mark Beaumont. Again, the kind of sketches likely to be relayed from Commonwealth lands and other post-colonial outposts will be about the ‘happy bonds’ rather than brutal bondage of empire. What chance here of honest reflection on Britain’s violent conduct in countries like Kenya, Malaya (now Malaysia), Nigeria and Jamaica?

As the baton travels around that notional ‘family’ of two billion people, starting in Delhi, it would be great to have a country-by-country account of Britain’s conquests, wars and plundering, past and present.

We could even have the historian Mark Curtis, author of Unpeople and Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam, on-hand to help chart the ten million deaths that Britain is complicit in since 1945 alone.

But that, again, wouldn’t be very ‘sporting’, ‘on-message’ or ‘illuminating’ for Games-watchers, would it? We just can’t have the baton being defiled like that, can we?

The Games will, I’m sure, bring a nice buzz of excitement to Glasgow, and a chance to show our welcoming side as hospitable Glaswegians.

In that same spirit, it could even be a timely occasion on which to acknowledge and apologise for Glasgow’s own considerable part in the slave trade and all the other imperialist enterprises which helped found its Merchant City.

And, as a wider educational exercise, it might encourage the question: precisely whose wealth is currently held ‘in common’ across the Commonwealth?

Hopefully, in some optimistic post-2014 state, we might be fanfaring a more radical baton for the emergings of a real wealth-sharing community, motivated by a people-centred Common Weal, rather than the neo-colonial fabrications of a royal-coveted Commonwealth and the neoliberal forces that drive it all.

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