Colonialism and Modern Politics

Among their eye-wateringly expensive plans for this country should they come to power on December 12th, the Labour Party intend to hold an enquiry into the history of the British Empire. Commie Corbyn has suggested that Britain should consider paying reparations to its former colonies and has demanded that children in British schools be taught about the ‘grave injustices’ of an empire that let’s face it – made the modern world what it is.

Corbyn’s scheme, designed to play well to his hard-left supporters is intended to make ever more apologies for our former Empire. This is just political gimmickry but let’s look at it seriously for a moment.

On the face of it, learning more about one of the most important historical occurrences of modern times, about which British people are woefully ignorant apart from a few clichés and images from TV dramas, is much-needed. If that is what crafty Corbyn were genuinely proposing, I would cheer him on. But his own statements on the matter show that it is not what he intends. He and many of those who share his political persuasions approach the Empire instead from the position that it was straightforwardly evil.

I was born a child of the Raj and have been proud of my colonial heritage all my life. There were undoubtedly a few ‘grave injustices’ but in the main, colonial administrators were genuine, dedicated and hard working men and women who cared greatly for the people among whom they spent their lives, often in appalling conditions. The British Empire did much to make Britain what it is today and greatly impacted the wider world.

It is true that the Empire ruled millions of people, usually without their consent. And if you think all rule by foreigners is ‘oppression,’ then the Empire was oppressive. But how much should we sympathise with those Zulu elders in South Africa who lamented in 1900 that under British rule they had ‘practically lost control over their girls and women?’ There is one for the militant harridans of the Me Too movement to ponder on.

British officers of the Empire also worked hard to end female infanticide, genital mutilation, widow-burning, cannibalism, head-hunting, tribal warfare, witchcraft and human sacrifice. Was it oppressive to ban these practices?

The Empire is blamed for famines but rarely credited with raising living standards, or for the great cities it built, such as Calcutta, Sydney and Hong Kong.

And a serious analysis of the Empire’s economics shows that Britain probably gained little or nothing overall from those centuries of rule. However, the countries that comprised the Empire gained a great deal: defence, medicine. law and order, road and railway systems, cheap credit, low taxes, technology, communications and profitable markets. That surely is not oppression Mr Corbyn.

The world of the 18th and 19th centuries was in a frequent state of chaos. A civilised power – Great Britain – that provided law and order was welcomed by many and this is shown by the fact that so few people were needed to govern it. In 1903, the Civil Service’s entire Colonial Office in London had just one hundred and thirteen clerks. Imperial rule would have been impossible without the full co-operation of its subjects but this seems to have been forgotten.

That is why from its earliest origins in the 16th century, to its apex in the late 19th when, as the popular saying had it, ‘the sun never set’ on it, the Empire was a source of pride to patriotic Britons.

If Labour’s future inquiry is to judge fairly, it ought to consider the lives saved by the Empire – not just those lost. It is true that, at times, the Empire was ineffective and destructive. It is easy to pick out acts of violence – and even sickening atrocities – in its history. That is true of every state or empire, even today.

Of all the accusations against the Empire, slavery is the most notorious. Most states in the world were involved in slavery and many of the slaves were provided by their chiefs and rulers for payment in kind. Yes, British traders were the biggest shippers of slaves in the 18th century but that was because they had more ships than anyone else at the time. Prominent left-wing ‘intellectuals’ – and I use the word advisedly – claim that all Britain’s wealth was built on slave labour. This is politically correct tommytwaddle I’m afraid. Yes, Britain profited from slavery but they were also the most energetic opponents of the trade and did more than any other country to stop it.

If reparations are to be paid for slavery as Corbyn wishes, who should receive them? Descendants of slaves, many living in Britain who are better off than the people of Africa? The black American comedian Bill Cosby publicly gave thanks for slavery as it has allowed him to lead a good life as an American rather than living in a mud hut in the bush.

So the entire issue becomes farcical and there is no chance that Labour’s proposed inquiry would fairly explore any of these issues and help Britons to understand and celebrate the diversity they enjoy thanks to imperialism. The verdicts of history depend on who sits on the jury. I fear that this one would be packed with the most biased jurors imaginable. 

Let Corbyn and his fanatics consider for a moment the plight of those countries who have thrown off the yoke of imperialism. Take my own country Zimbabwe as an example. Cecil Rhodes’ colonisers built a prosperous modern country out of virgin bushveld yet as soon as it was ‘given back’ to its supposedly indigenous inhabitants, corruption and greed turned the breadbasket of Africa into a basket case.

Take the medical services for example. Despite million of pounds spent on updating and modernising the system, it has completely collapsed. In fact if anything, it has gone backwards a thousand years.

Mortuary freezers are full, even when they are running. All too often they are incapacitated through electricity cuts and bodies are left to rot on the ground. The people have gone back to traditional midwives as too many mothers are losing their babies or dying in childbirth. Some mothers and babies die due to botched caesarean operations.

Most government hospitals have less than twenty-five nurses who respond to thousands of patients from communities within their area, according to their register. Their toilet facilities are in bad shape, with poor water and sanitation facilities.

There is rampant bribery for treatment, mostly perpetuated by the nurses. And who can blame them? Nurses are not paid enough even for bus fare. They would probably earn more selling fruit on street corners – if they could get hold of the fruit!

In most hospitals there are insufficient bedding facilities. The facilities are highly congested, with pregnant and lactating mothers sleeping side-by-side on a single bed and two to three children sometimes put on a single bed to sleep. 

It is entirely due to poor governance and corruption that the country’s health care service has collapsed, more especially with the ongoing industrial action during which nearly three hundred doctors have been sacked for striking. As their average pay was eighty dollars a month, they probably had good reason to strike and now they will leave the country to work elsewhere and receive a decent reward for their services? 

Compounded by acute shortage of clean, safe drinking water, poor sanitation and lack of access to electricity, most hospitals in the country have themselves become death traps. Yet the lack of response from the international community, including the Labour Party to the emergency posed by the current crisis is quite staggering.

Don’t blame the brave Victorians who developed the Empire for atrocities Mr Corbyn. Don’t look to pay out descendants of the indigenous people of long ago. Look to more recent actions by British governments and if you are to pay out compensation, pay it to those modern people whose lives and livelihoods have been destroyed by the actions of modern British governments. Governments who have been only to eager to leave formerly loyal subjects to the whims of corrupt dictators..

If – Heaven forbid – you do become Prime Minister then please please make a fact-finding visit to Zimbabwe a priority.

Then ask me to be ashamed of my colonial upbringing!

One thought on “Colonialism and Modern Politics

  1. One could say the clock has done a full circle as far as Zim is concerned – in fact they were probably better off 150 years ago than now! Plenty of food, healthier, good water available and so on . Enjoyed the historical side of your rant – think the facts and figures of it could be material for a TV series. Cheers.


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