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

Even concerning what should be done about India after its independence, again the Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, and Churchill shared the same view that India should be persuaded to remain in the Commonwealth. This was demonstrated in a letter which Attlee had sent to the King, who had taken a close interest in the Indian negotiations, and was in total agreement with Attlee that ways should be found in which the republican status of the new sate could be reconciled with Commonwealth membership.

In his letter to the King, Attlee said “… Mr. Churchill gave it as his own opinion that it was most important to keep India in the Commonwealth. While fully agreeing with the importance of not weakening the link of the allegiance to the Crown, he thought that it should be possible to retain a republican India in the Commonwealth.” 3

Thus, the Conservative Administration, and once again Churchill as Prime Minister, pressed ahead with plans for self-government in the colonies, that had already been started by the previous Labour government. As Oliver Lyttleton, who was the Colonial Secretary from 1951 to 1954, has put it: “… it seemed clear that the development of self-government…was at once the only enlightened and the only practical theme of a colonial policy in the fifties.”4 Hence, decolonisation under the successive Conservative Governments continued on steadily. When Harold Macmillan was in office from 1957 to 1963, he appointed Iain Macleod as the Colonial Secretary. Macmillan was in effect issuing a directive to quicken the pace of British withdrawal from the colonies, in Africa and in other areas. Macleod commented later:

“It has been said that after I became Colonial Secretary there was a   deliberate speeding up of the movement towards independence. I agree there was. And in my view any other policy would have led to terrible bloodshed in Africa. This is the heart of the argument.

Were the countries fully ready for independence? Of course not. Nor was India, and the bloodshed which followed the grant of independence there was incomparably worse that anything that has happened since to any country. Yet the decision of the Attlee Government was the only realistic one. Equally we could not possibly have held by force to our territories in Africa. We could not, with an enormous force engaged, even continue to hold the small island of Cyprus. General de Gaulle could not contain Algeria. The march of men towards freedom can be guided, but not halted. Of course, there were risks in moving quickly. But the risks of moving slowly were far greater.”5

Although being a socialist party, nevertheless the Labour Party strongly believed that Britain’s position as a power must remain, and Bevin was emphatic on this issue. Therefore, the Labour Party harmonise their socialist anti-colonialism with British nationalism, and protecting the United Kingdom’s interests in the former Empire. The Conservative Party, however, traditionally and conspicuously supported standing for the British Empire and its expansion. Churchill once said in the 1930s, about India’s independence, that “the Indians would never be fit to govern themselves, and that in any case to give them independence would undermine the whole of the British Empire.”6

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