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

As they were generally in harmony with the Labour Government of 1945-51 regarding the decolonization process, the Conservative leaders of 1951-63 similarly had very little disagreement with their predecessors’s strategies for protecting British power and interest, and in general continued Labour’s policies. This is due to the fact that the policies of the Labour Government in maintaining Britain’s economic and political interests in the ex-colonies was, as a matter of fact, a Conservative device. It was the Labour Government, and in particular Earnest Bevin, Labour’s Foreign Secretary, who, in 1950, in the Sinhalese capital of Colombo, made the concept of ‘trusteeship’, or the Colonial Development Act of 1940, official; it became known as the Colombo Plan. In fact, in 1946, Ernest Bevin stated firmly and clearly that, “for his part he was ‘not prepared to sacrifice the British Empire'”21 on the grounds that “if the British Empire fell…it would mean the standard of life in our constituencies would fall rapidly.”22 Additionally, as Bernard Porter has put it, “‘development and welfare’ was seductive because its effect was to sanction what was expedient now, while at the same time seeming to endorse most of what had been done in the past.”23 The Colombo Plan, which had previously been known as the Development Act of 1940 formulated by the Conservatives, was to imply that “Britain was in Africa and Asia for the Africans’ and Asians’ good and that her aim was to ‘develop’ them to a stage where they could fend for themselves.”24 The policy of giving aid to the ex-colonies would also conceal the admission of the error of past imperial policy. Therefore, it could be said that among both imperialists and anti-imperialists the policy of colonial development was uncontroversial, as it continued assistance to the developing countries and, at the same time, the economic interests of Britain were protected.

It was, in particular, Oliver Stanley, the wartime Conservative Colonial Secretary, who had anticipated Britain’s economic crisis after World War Two, and therefore suggested the idea of development policy. Therefore, it is essential to examine his role in more detail. Oliver Stanley was close to Churchill and was spoken of as a future Chancellor. Apart from being the Colonial Secretary, he had held several ministerial offices. There was minimum dispute in view of his record as Colonial Secretary from 1942 to 1945. He was respected and liked by his party and also his political opponents and other people with whom he dealt in the colonies. Stanley was entirely in sympathy with the new conception of development and welfare which had come into currency since the thirties. He was, in particular, the driving force behind the preparatory work in the development field and was responsible for the 1940 Colonial and Development Act. In the constitutional field he created important precedents. Internal self-government for Ceylon and Malta, universal suffrage in Jamaica, and an African unofficial majority in the Gold Coast Legislature were all established or promised during his time in office.

The Jamaican example was significant because it was the first outside the Asian territories of a major constitutional advance following hard upon local nationalist agitations (led in this case by Bustamante); while, to provide for the first African majority in an African Legislative Council was clearly a breakthrough, a constitutional modification different in kind from any of its predecessors.

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