The Commonwealth Games begin on Wednesday, but apart from the Games, what does the Commonwealth actually do, and what is its history? Formerly known as the British Commonwealth, it is an organisation of 53 member states, most of which were formerly ruled directly or indirectly by the British Empire. The name dates back to 1884 when British Liberal politician Lord Roseberry described the British Empire as the ‘Commonwealth of Nations’. The idea of the Commonwealth as we know it developed in the mid-20th century, as Britain struggled to maintain hold of its overseas territories in the wake of economic difficulties at home and as the tide of decolonisation and nationalism took hold across the world. Following the partition of India in 1947, the word ‘empire’ was officially dropped and other nations became republics or constitutional monarchies – in essence they became self-governing while remaining in the Commonwealth and retaining Britain’s monarch as Head of State. While an obvious subject for those interested in Imperial or World History, the fact that leaders of the Commonwealth still meet twice a year to discuss issues, collective policies and initiatives (such as trade), should encourage PPE, Economics and Law applicants to also take note of some of the surviving remnants of Britain’s imperial past.
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