Foreign Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence from Etoile Partners Ltd

1. Executive Summary

1.1 The Commonwealth is the only global international political organisation that has belief in democracy at its very heart.

1.2 We believe that the Commonwealth can be positioned as:

1.2.1A Global Democratic Foundation: speaking for democracy in a way that no other international organisation can, encompassing as it does the “North” and the “South”, the “East” and the “West”. It has the potential to be a great force for good in the 21st century in a world where democracy cannot be taken for granted.

1.2.2A Growing economic development force in the world: without economic progress and growth democracy can be a hollow concept. Democracy has always been the stronger when there is a free and open market in goods and services, in ideas, and in education. There are many diverse economic philosophies to be found across the Commonwealth but all want economic success to improve the well-being of their people and assist many to escape from poverty.

1.3 However the Commonwealth currently suffers from appearing to many to have lost its raison d’être, which may once have been and may still be the promotion of common values of democracy, human rights and peaceful coexistence, but it seems shy of publicly promoting and defending those values

1.4 Indeed, a poll we conducted in the UK of 100 senior UK influencers from media, parliament, the law and the civil service shows that even the “great and the good” of the UK don’t see in the Commonwealth the values that it is meant to espouse.

1.5 We propose that the Commonwealth empower itself to seek private sector sponsorship to fund a functions and positioning study to produce recommendations for a revitalised Commonwealth.

2. About Etoile Partners

2.1 Etoile Partners is a geopolitical consultancy established in 2010. It is based in London and has associates in countries across the world, including the Americas, South Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe. Two of its members have strong South African credentials.

2.2 Etoile advises clients on strategic positioning and is normally briefed to help provide the communications expertise that will improve perceptions of an organisation and give it the ability to be more successful, more influential, have a larger and more persuasive “share of voice” and be more valued by its audiences, who recognise it for the quality of what it does and the benefits it brings to wider society.

2.3 Graham Barr MBE is a founding partner of Etoile and Roger Cartwright MBE has been involved with the business since its creation.

2.4 Both are former senior public affairs employees of BP, with many years’ experience of living in and working with Commonwealth and other countries, most notably in sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean.

2.5 Graham Barr sits on the board of the Global Leadership Foundation, which he co-founded with former South African Presidents, Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk

2.6 While at BP, Roger Cartwright worked extensively with UK government departments in furthering the interests of the UK and countries in the Caribbean and Latin American region.

2.7 This submission was also the work of Ron Hepburn, managing director and a founding partner of Etoile, who has strategic positioning experience for government organisations in Africa and the Middle East as well as the UK, and Martin Roche, who has advised public bodies in Malta for many years and is a previous adviser to the Government of Guernsey. Martin has over 30 years’ experience advising economic development, trade development and regeneration agencies in the UK and overseas.

2.8 Our experience and our area of expertise come from operating on the interface between business and government.

2.9 Etoile became interested in the Commonwealth and its future when Graham Barr was invited to give a talk to the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group on 25 October 2010.

2.10 This paper is based on the talk he gave, on views subsequently developed by an Etoile team that was created to consider the Commonwealth, and on a piece of opinion research carried out by the polling house, Populus, on behalf of Etoile.

2.11 No Commonwealth or UK public funds have been used by Etoile, with all of the work to date being on a pro bono basis.

2.12 Etoile concluded that the Commonwealth delivered many benefits to its member states and to many people. However, unfortunately, positive perceptions of the organisation are a mixture of the hazy, confused and uncertain.

3. What can be done?

3.1 While there are many excellent reasons for the Commonwealth, Etoile could not identify in the organisation’s communications a single unifying purpose for the Commonwealth’s existence currently, which makes it a very difficult body to explain and promote and to win the support of its peoples. When people cannot easily identify and articulate the core benefits of an organisation, brand or even a political party, winning their endorsement and support is at best extremely challenging and at worst almost impossible.

3.2 We concluded that the Commonwealth also suffers from appearing to many to have lost its raison d’être, which may once have been and may still be the promotion of common values of democracy, human rights and peaceful coexistence, though it seems shy of publicly promoting and defending those values.

3.3 The ties that originally bound the Commonwealth together were, arguably, the personal engagement of the first and second generations of post-colonial leaders who saw the organisation as a valuable foreign policy tool, and a global platform to fight apartheid and other abuses. The personal commitment and enthusiasm of Her Majesty the Queen has, in our view, undoubtedly helped to keep the Commonwealth together and given the organisation a unique convening power.

3.4 Bluntly, it seems to us to exist in something of a bubble; something its leaders value and enjoy, along with limited numbers of civil servants and government agencies in some countries, but it seems distant and little relevant to the great majority of people in its member states. Even though it engages in much of importance, including quiet diplomacy and ranging from trade development, to education, sport and much else, it has not promoted itself effectively to the vast majority of its wider populations, arguably key to effective political support over the longer term. Indeed, as the survey of 100 senior UK influencers done for Etoile by Populus shows, only 25% correctly identified the Commonwealth when asked:

3.5 “If there was a single non-political, non-sovereign organisation, which represented almost of third of the world’s population with the stated aim of promoting democracy, human rights, good governance, the rule of law, individual liberty, egalitarianism, free trade, multilateralism and world peace would you expect Britain to belong to it?” and followed up with “Are you aware of any body that does this?—can you name one?”

3.6 While we recognise that this poll was focused on the UK only, it should remain a serious concern for the Commonwealth that people from media, parliament, the law and the civil service of the UK don’t recognise the Commonwealth for the values that it is meant to espouse.

3.7 In ten to twenty years it is likely that the majority of people who were figures of influence in the post-colonial world will have departed the stage. So, without a primary, easily identifiable purpose, combined with an apparent loosening of collective will to express common values and new generations of political leaders perhaps less wedded to the idea of the Commonwealth, there has to be a serious question mark over the willingness of member states to give the Commonwealth the attention and the funds it will need for its political legitimacy and its financial wellbeing.

3.8 We believe that to lose the Commonwealth or to see it become steadily less relevant to its members and peoples would be a functional, emotional and indeed geopolitical lost opportunity if not a tragedy.

3.9 However, despite the above, we believe that the Commonwealth is the only global international political organisation that has belief in democracy at its very heart.

3.10 We believe that the Commonwealth can be positioned as:

3.10.1A global democratic foundation: with the mandate to speak for democracy and the common man in a way that no other international organisation can. It is the “North” and the “South”, the “East” and the “West”, it straddles both hemispheres and contains 30% of the world’s population. As such it is uniquely equipped to offer examples of a multiple versions of democracy, not just the “western” model with all its historical baggage, which may have limited appeal or relevance to other emerging economies/states. It thus has the potential to be a great force for good in the 21st century in a world where democracy cannot be taken for granted.

3.10.2A growing economic development force in the world: There are many diverse economic philosophies to be found across the Commonwealth and it would be naïve to imagine that the Commonwealth might rally round a single economic dogma, but all want economic success to improve the well-being of their people and assist many to escape from poverty. Etoile would endorse moves to build structures and processes that generated far more trade and investment – and accompanying development—across and between Commonwealth countries, and indeed other countries not currently members of the Commonwealth, than is currently the case.

4. How is this to be achieved?

4.1 Creating a coherent package of “The New Commonwealth” is a very large task that will take time and resources.

4.2 We propose that it is in the UK’s long term interests that the Commonwealth Secretariat be given the consent of the member nations to seek possibly government but probably private sector sponsorship for a study that would create the framework for a revitalised Commonwealth.

4.3 Building on the recommendations of the Commonwealth Eminent Person Group, the study would deliver:

4.3.1A strategic positioning review which examines the purpose, relevance and role of the Commonwealth, and how these can be enhanced.

4.3.2The systems and structures to facilitate this.

4.3.3A strategy for the re-positioning of the Commonwealth and the focussed promotion of its core functions – the active promotion of democracy, and potentially the Commonwealth as a development institution and enhanced market.

4.3.4A route map as to how all this could be achieved.

4.4 One or more commercial sponsors would be invited to fund the work, which would be under the control of the Commonwealth Secretariat and with a “Project Board” from a representative number of Commonwealth states. This might be achieved through trust established for this purpose and supervised by a group including the Commonwealth Secretariat.

23 January 2012

Prepared 14th November 2012