“Churchillian” Foreign Policy Since 1945: Imperial Establishment’s Ideological Adjustments to Managing British Power, and Interests in Post Colonial Britain.

“Churchillian” Foreign Policy Since 1945: Imperial Establishment’s Ideological Adjustments to Managing British Power, and Interests in Post Colonial Britain.

The history of decolonisation, that is, of the movement of granting political independence to the Colonies, can be traced back to the struggle for independence of the English Colonies in North America. After the loss of the American Colonies, London sought, subsequently, to prevent a break with the settlers in other parts of the world by preparing the way for self-government and, later by granting Dominion status. Thus the British Empire began, under the guidance of London, to evolve into the British Commonwealth and finally, in the effort to maintain British interests between 1945-63, into the Modern Commonwealth. In the twentieth century this surely represented the major political adjustment and achievement of the British political elite, which helped guarantee its own position.

As Professor Zimmern has put it,

“this should not be understood as the disintegration of the Empire, or a loss of power and prestige, but as an intentional process of reconstruction”.2

According to Zimmern “British imperialism must adapt to the new situations”. Henceforth the word “British” could no longer be taken to denote a particular race, nationality or territorial division and the idea of “white supremacy” could not be upheld, even though the Anglo-Saxon, as opposed to the Latins, might find it difficult to give up the race-consciousness.3 Zimmern considered the theory that “nation and state were unhealthy terms; on the other hand, the movement for cultural self-determination which we find springing up within the Empire is perfectly sound, healthy and indeed inevitable”.4 London did not attempt, like Paris, a policy of assimilation; on the contrary, it had depoliticised the concept of nationality and particularly the notion of  British, and as a result had made possible an association of equal self-respecting communities. Consequently, from the time India received its independence after the Second World War, the term the British Commonwealth was replaced by the term the Modern Commonwealth, or simply the Commonwealth. In the words of P.O. Gordon-Walker, the Minister for Commonwealth Relations in the post-1945 Labour Government for two years, and the future Foreign Secretary 1964-65, as representative of many similar comments:

“One possibility is that the nationalism of Asia may range itself against the nations of the West. That, I think, would be the greatest calamity that befell the world. It would carry in its train very grave problems and difficulties for the next century or two, and I think the Commonwealth, which includes great Asian as well as great Western nations, is the world’s best hope that Asia and the West will develop in friendship and co-operation instead of hostility and suspicion. This, as I see it, is a task that history had confined to the British Commonwealth. There is no other force in the world so well fitted to discharge it, no other association of nations in which the best of Asia and the West is equally represented and intimately united.”5

P.O. Gordon-Walker, 1950.

Professor H.V. Hodson of Oxford University, however, after World War Two described the Modern Commonwealth as the “Fourth British Empire”.6 This was following Alfred Zimmern’s phrase, the “third British Empire”7 which he coined in 1920. Professor Zimmern had divided the history of the British Empire into three periods. The first was the early expansion overseas and lasted until 1776-1783. The second, from the American War of Independence until the First World War, was marked by the construction of a new Empire based on sea-power and trade whose components gradually achieved internal autonomy, yet remained politically dependent on the mother country.

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