Commonwealth flag
The Commonwealth flag flies outside Westminster Abbey in central London. BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images

Last week, leaked reports claimed that Commonwealth country leaders and officials were secretly talking about who would become the next head. The reports were quickly denied, but there was a ring of truth about what had been leaked.

Queen Elizabeth II is 92. She has been at the heart of this august association since it was set up in 1949, just as the old empire was beginning to unravel. Some say its formation was a cunning plan to ensure Blighty retained influence and prestige, while others believe it was a pitiful way of hanging on to a history that was passing. I personally believe it was both.

Even as nations became independent, old subjects could not bear to be separated from the old Motherland, which herself needed to believe it was still in charge. What was then known as the British Commonwealth came out of mutual dependency and ghosts of empire past which would not sleep.

Throughout my childhood I saw those posed photographs of Commonwealth gatherings and wondered why the white queen was always in the centre. Did the other heads of state never want to take her place? Why did they all genuflect so conspicuously to her?

When it was formally constituted by the London Declaration in 1949, member states were described as 'free and equal'. They have never been free nor equal.

According to the BBC, the Queen has recently been 'working in private' to ensure her heir, Prince Charles, succeeds her. That would be a travesty. It's bad enough that our democracy maintains a hereditary monarchy and that our head of state is not chosen by citizens. But surely nations in this league, supposedly democracies, do not have to accept such an unjustifiable deal; ongoing, institutionalised inequality.

On Tuesday (13 February) I was on BBC Radio 4's PM programme to discuss all this with Euripides Evriviades, the High Commissioner of the Republic of Cyprus. The presenter was the always civil and astute Eddie Mair.

Three reporters in India, Nigeria and Jamaica explored what the old fellowship meant to young people from those countries. It meant nothing.

The man from Cyprus was smooth, diplomatic, unruffled, fine mannered, touchingly loyal to the Queen. One could imagine him drinking claret in a fine old Pall Mall club. He used words like 'deliverables', 'networking', and 'synergies' when describing what the Commonwealth should do to reinvent itself.

I came away even more persuaded that the club is discreditable and should be dispensed with forthwith.

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"When the Queen dies, let the Commonwealth die too. The world would be a better place without it." Chris Jackson/Getty Images

I do accept that the Commonwealth games are splendid, that some excellent work is done by the association and connected satellite charities, that scholarships and education initiatives are wholly admirable, that connecting peoples in this increasingly fragile and splintered world is important and necessary. But the negatives far outweigh the positives.

Clubs of the privileged are suspect at the best of times, but this global one reflects and embodies conservative, archaic values and, more alarmingly, has long undercut and subverted the central modern principles of equality, human rights, democracy and accountability.

Look at the counties on the list. How many are known to be violators of basic rights? One is quite spoilt for choice. Yet, representatives from some of the poorest and most wretched nations on Earth, can during heads of states meetings talk the talk, forget uncomfortable realities, and feel they are among friends.

Secularists are being murdered in Bangladesh and Pakistan. Many of the African countries are becoming authoritarian and corrupt. South Africa's Jacob Zuma was one of the worst. Gay people are violently persecuted in many Caribbean territories and across Africa. Women and girls across the Commonwealth are discriminated against and violated.

Where are the strong condemnations from the Queen's favourite leadership guild? The UN sends out special rapporteurs and issues reports on western, eastern, northern and southern countries. The Commonwealth, according to Evriviades prefers "seduction to coercion".

Or as one ex-official told me: "They massage each other's egos. Expensive clothes, wines, clubbiness. They are in it for themselves. Not for their people."

It gets worse. At times some action is taken, as with Gambia and the Maldives, both with poor human rights records. But the Commonwealth never, ever, moves against Western democracies.

Australia's treatment of asylum seekers is shocking. Men, women and children are banished to inhospitable islands, malnourished and driven mad. Our detention centres and asylum system knowingly punished the desperate and dispossessed. Some of the victims in the UK and Australia are from other Commonwealth nations from whence they fled for a variety of reasons.

In all these decades, the Commonwealth has said or done nothing to stop these cruelties. In fact, the Commonwealth has become a fig leaf which provides legitimacy to foul, false and unfeeling politicians, ours among them.

So, I say again, when the Queen dies, let the Commonwealth die too. The world would be a better place without it.