The Imperial Political Elite Establishment’s Strategies for Protecting British Power

The Imperial Political Elite Establishment’s Strategies for Protecting British Power

When the Labour Government came to office, in 1945, Britain was still involved in vast areas of the world – the Far East, the Middle East, Europe, and elsewhere, but, she was facing mounting economic pressures. Therefor, having had a substantial programme of domestic reforms ahead of it, the incoming Labour Government struggled to decide on Britain’s future role. As Bernard Porter has put it, Labour’s plan for the decolonisation of the Empire was “the letting go of what, after a war, just could not be held.”40

The Labour Government’s ‘giving up of the Empire’ did not mean the end of British influence in the former colonies. It has to be put into the context of a development approach to the colonies, “which would put real flesh on to the old bones of trusteeship.”41 The idea of colonial development was essentially based upon shrewd economic considerations, being aimed at retaining Britain’s trading and financial role in the former colonies and, as a result, maintaining Britain’s economic and political position as a world power. The Labour political elite achieved this by developing the British Commonwealth into the Modern Commonwealth ‘club’, which was defined in Chapter Three. It happened essentially because after the War Britain was no longer able to defend its colonial rule. This had been foreseen a long time before the end of World War Two, by both the Conservatives and the Labour politicians – especially by the progressive Conservatives such as Oliver Stanley, the wartime Colonial Secretary, and Andrew Cohen, later to be the Governor of Uganda. In fact, the Labour Government’s development policies for the colonies had been laid down by the Colonial Development and Welfare Act of 1940 and its successor in 1945, both products of the war-time coalition. Therefore, the Modern Commonwealth continued the imperial connection. It is reinforced and valued among the newly independent countries by the economic development incentive brought about by the Colonial Development Act. The member countries of this ‘club’, as a result, are responsible for their own defence. Hence Britain’s economic interests in the former colonies were protected, whilst she reduced the cost of defence. Moreover, Britain, being an important capitalist country, by winning support from the colonial countries moving towards independence, deterred the influence of Communism and prevented other western countries moving in. It could be said that since the Second World War giving of aid has become part of international diplomacy.

It was in the Sinhalese capital of Colombo that Ernest Bevin had his final achievement as Foreign Secretary. It was in this, the first ever meeting of the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers, that the Colonial Development Act of 1940 became officially the Commonwealth Development Corporation and the British equivalent, for the Commonwealth, of the Marshall Plan – the Colombo Plan – was established. The meeting in Colombo had taken place in 1950, and, in the following year, Bevin stepped down as Foreign Secretary.

British thus managed to maintain her political and financial interests and prevented the Empire from a total disintegration, by establishing the Modern Commonwealth.

The second half of Britain’s priorities now was defence. Although the members of the Commonwealth became responsible for their own defence, they still remained exposed to Communism’s influence, particularly in the face of the split between Russia and the West after the war. Moreover, Britain’s economic weakness gave her a handicap in keeping up with military, and especially atomic, weapon technology.

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