The death has just been announced of Sir Zelman Cowen, former Governor General of Australia, former Vice-Chancellor, former Provost of Oriel College Oxford, great constitutional lawyer and historian; widely regarded as a man of the utmost integrity, intellect and kindliness, no one had a bad word to say about him. I met him when he was a fellow head of an Oxford college and regard my acquaintance with him as one of the most impressive and fortunate I have ever had.
I mention him because in the midst of the concentration on our links with Europe, it is easy to overlook that much older association, the Commonwealth. Sir Zelman embodied the links this country forged with others that shared the same legal system, the common law, respect for the rule of law and democracy, and who joined with the Allies in declaring war on Germany at the start of the second world war. Sir Zelman came to Oxford from his native Melbourne by way of a Rhodes Scholarship after the war. The latest list of Rhodes Scholars has just been announced, and it is worth remembering how much good they have done by giving young people from around the world, but in particular from the US and the Commonwealth, the very best education we can offer before they return home usually to achieve great things in their own countries. He wrote books about constitutional law, taught law here and in Australia, advised the British Colonial Service, and as Governor General successfully healed the wounds after the controversial dismissal in 1975 of the Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam by an earlier Governor General, John Kerr. This raised questions about whether the Governor General, the representative of the Queen in Australia, had the power to do this. In later life it seemed that Sir Zelman favoured Australia becoming a republic. Yet he treasured, and embodied close links with the UK through shared legal concepts. A very great man.