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

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

This examination firmly indicates that the Labour party is overtly ideological. It stresses the need for equality – between classes and between races. It insists on equality of opportunity and, even, equality or near-equality of rewards. Social provision is given a very high priority by the Labour Party. It advocates an extension of public ownership and/or control. In foreign affairs the Labour Party is “far less hesitant about cutting defence expenditure closing overseas bases than any Conservative government is ever likely to be.”27 It is “parochial and fervently anti-colonial.”28

Relinquishing India can be considered an appropriate start to investigate the attitudes and policy ideas of the Labour political elite in regard to the process of the decolonisation of the British Empire and the establishment of the Modern Commonwealth. This approach is taken for two reasons. Firstly, because India had always been regarded by the British political elite as the ‘jewel’ of the British Empire, it could be said that, in fact, one of the reasons that the British Empire became so vast in the east was to protect India. It was always believed that if the Empire lost India the other colonies would follow suit. Such a belief became a reality. Once India won independence from Britain, the rest of the colonies in Asia and Africa followed India’s path. We could go as far as saying that, in the developing world, India became a model for political independence. The second reason for selecting India as a case study is due to the fact that the Indian question had indeed become a pressing issue for the Labour Government and therefore they had the urge to come to grips with it. This was because the situation in India was getting more and more dangerous.

For decades the ultimate transfer of power to India had been foreseen, but not even until 1939 had it been realised how fast the granting of independence to the Indians would be carried out. The antagonism felt by Hindus and Muslims for each other, and the failure of the Congress and other Indian parties to help guarantee either internal stability or resistance to aggression from outside, appeared convincing evidence that for sometime to come no dramatic development with regard to independence would take place in India. In his letter in 1939, the Secretary of State for India, Lord Zetland, had expressed the view to the Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, that the rate of advance was “much more likely to be that of a stage coach rather than an express train,”29 and in spite of the fact that he had doubted this judgment once the war had broken out, Lord Linlithgow had continued to feel astonishment at the idea that the British would “seriously contemplate evacuation in any measurable period of time.”30

However, the Indian leaders were losing their patience and becoming increasingly active in their demands for self-government. They had no wish to wait indefinitely. The Second World War undoubtedly stimulated the Indians’ struggle for separation from the British Empire. “At the beginning of that war the Viceroy made the ludicrously inept mistake of declaring war on India’s behalf, as he was entitled to do, without consulting a single Indian”31. The white Raj came to realise in the early 1940s that its years were numbered, as Britain’s ability to defend its Asian Empire, with war raging in Europe, was brought into question and increasing reliance had to be placed on Indian support and forces in the face of the Japanese threat. Dominion status had accordingly been offered to the Indians, once the war was over, and detailed propositions had been formulated by Sir Stafford Cripps in 1942; in that year Japanese seizure of the British possessions in the Far East, notably Singapore and Burma, had made Indian help in the face of a threatened invasion of India crucial.

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