A Guide to the Contemporary Commonwealth

By W. David McIntyre | Go to book overview

10
At the Summit – Chogms

The Heads of Government Meetings are the only aspect of the Commonwealth to make headlines, apart from the Queen and the Games. To use the argot, they represent the ‘Commonwealth at the Summit’ and are known by the flat neologism ‘Chogm’. Generally forgotten is the fact that they are the world’s oldest and largest gatherings of Heads of Government. They are, indeed, the contemporary successors of the Colonial Conferences, which began with Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee in 1887, continued as Imperial Conferences between 1911 and 1937, and the Prime Ministers’ Meetings which ran from 1944 and 1969.

When 45 heads of delegation, each with two officials, met around the table in Vancouver in 1987, only the editor of the quarterly journal The Round Table thought to recall that it was the centenary of the first Colonial Conference. In 1887 there had been a slightly smaller gathering, of 123 representatives from Britain and the Empire. When the experiment was repeated for Victoria’s diamond jubilee in 1897, attendance was smaller, being confined to the Premiers of the self-governing colonies. For the next meeting, at the time of Edward VII’s coronation, it was smaller still; there was now only one prime minister from newly federated Australia. By the time of the first Imperial Conference in 1911, the four South African colonies had become a single Union, so making the conference even smaller. 1 The unique Imperial War Cabinets of the 1914–18 war consisted of Australia, Britain, Canada, Newfoundland, New Zealand and South Africa. The Irish Free State added a sixth Dominion in 1922. We have seen how Newfoundland gave up Dominion status in 1933 and Éire adopted a republican constitution in 1937; both were absent from the conferences after 1930.

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