Conservative Imperial Political Elite Establishment in the Decolonisation Process of the British Empire

Conservative Imperial Political Elite Establishment in the Decolonisation Process of the British Empire

Conservative Imperial Political Elite
Establishment in the Decolonisation Process of
the British Empire

The Labour Government of 1945-51’s programme of decolonisation mainly took place in Asia, with India being the prime example. The Conservative administrations of 1951-63 were chiefly concerned with the African decolonisation process, with some exceptions.

For the imperial decision-makers of the new Government in Britain, the process of granting full nationhood to the colonies in Africa was much more complicated than in the Asian colonies. African society was fragmented along tribal lines. For example, in Kenya there were about 110 separate native administrations that the British had been obliged to recognise. The Ashanti and Ga of the Gold Coast, the Kikuyu and Lou of Kenya, the Baganda of Uganda, all shared their countries with many less numerous or less advanced peoples. The antagonism that they felt for each other was a serious obstacle to effective negotiation and stable government, especially in Kenya and Uganda. Moreover, linguistic differences among the African tribes was a further barrier to the process of independence in Africa. It was estimated that, altogether, about 400 languages were spoken in British tropical Africa, and many of these were subdivided into dialects. Further divisive factors were the teaching of Muslim, Protestant and Catholic doctrine to the African tribes in the nineteenth century, and the boundaries of territories that Europeans had frequently defined without regard to the tribes. In addition to all the problems that have been outlined, the British political elite were suspicious of the legitimacy of the nationalist leaders in Africa both during the Labour and Conservative Governments.

As the Conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli once said: “governments found most of their legislation in the pigeon-holes of their predecessors.”1 This was precisely the case as regards the decolonisation process under the Conservatives of 1951-63, and protecting British power and interests during the evolution of the Modern Commonwealth. Returning to the Indian question and Labour briefly, there was very little dispute between the Labour Government and the Conservatives after the war, when Labour proceeded with the Indian independence and decolonisation programme. In fact, Lord Halifax, who was the Foreign Secretary in Churchill’s War Cabinet, had shared Attlee’s ideas regarding India’s crises by explaining to the imperial ultras in the Conservative Party that “the Labour Party could not be held responsible for the present critical situation, and that the crises were the result of old agreements, the war and internal Indian tension.”2 The other prominent Conservative who had expressed moderate views while in opposition was R. A. Butler. Lord Halifax’s views had made a considerable impression in the House of Lords. Ironically, one of the opponents of decolonisation in the Conservative Party, who first bitterly opposed granting India’s independence, Lord Templewood (Indian minister in the 1930s, as Samuel Hoare), withdrew his vote of no-confidence and did not refuse his consent. Moreover, in 1942, it was Churchill who sent the Labour Chancellor, Sir Stafford Cripps, to India to lead a mission to try to prepare a way for further constitutional advance. In due course, in this article, it will become clear why Churchill had come to change his mind and was ready to discuss independence with the colonies, as long ago as 1942.

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