Tag Archives: the british empire

Shadows of the Past

My shadow in front of me.
Leaves fall from a nearby tree.
I think of an old England
I never knew.

Is all I understand
Or maybe half-see
The reality of me?

What is true
When the many/few
Call for Britain’s statues to fall,
And label me merely a reactionary?

Winston Churchill Maligned

There have recently been a number of attempts to smear the reputation of Winston Churchill. These have ranged from daubing his statue with graffiti accusing Churchill of being a “racist”, to a recent conference at Churchill College. During the latter event Churchill was, again maligned and the British empire was said to have been worse than that of the Nazis.

For a more balanced perspective on Churchill I would recommend a publication by Policy Exchange which points out the many inaccuracies in the view of Churchill promulgated by the conference at the college which bares his name.

This link deals with the decision of Churchill College to end the one-sided discussions during which Churchill’s reputation was maligned, https://policyexchange.org.uk/churchill-college-has-made-a-wise-decision-in-closing-down-the-working-group-on-churchill-race-and-empire/, whilst the second contains a link to a more balanced assessment of his reputation https://policyexchange.org.uk/publication/the-racial-consequences-of-mr-churchill-a-review/.

Empire

The wind is getting up.
Should I put
Kipling aside
For his pride
In empire?

Should I apologise
And lower my eyes
For seeing empire
In all it’s complexity?

The Romans to Britain came.
Should Italians apologise
And lower their eyes
With shame?

You may say
“The Roman Empire
Was not all bad”.
But you would be mad
To put your head above the parapit
And admit
The same
Of Britain’s imperial past.

A certain class
Would look aghast
And cry “shame”
And label you
With a name
Untrue.

Mud sticks
And many men
Seal their lips.
Whilst a brave few
Say what they
Believe to be true.

Empire

The British Empire is, to state the blatantly obvious, a topic of great historical importance, and a sensative subject capable of arousing strong emotions. The British Labour Party has announced, in it’s “Race and Faith Manifesto” that, if elected, it will investigate the impact of British colonialism:

“Labour will conduct an audit of
the impact of Britain’s colonial legacies
to understand our contribution to the
dynamics of violence and insecurity
across regions previously under British
colonial rule.
We will also:
· Create an Emancipation Educational
Trust to ensure the historical injustices
of colonialism, and the role of the
British Empire is properly integrated
into the National Curriculum, to teach
powerful Black history which is also
British history”, https://labour.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Race-and-Faith-Manifesto-2019.pdf.

As a historian, Labour’s “pledge” to carry out an audit of British colonialism causes me great concern. Whilst there where (undoubtedly) injustices committed by the British Empire, and its impossible to deny that many of those involved in colonial administration believed in the superiority of white (and, in particular British rule, which would, by today’s standards make them “racists), this is not the whole story. As pointed out by Jeremy Paxman in this article, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/9085936/Jeremy-Paxman-Our-empire-was-an-amazing-thing.html, Britain played a leading role in the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, it stamped out the practice of widow burning in India, it built infrastructure in the form of roads and rail, and left a legacy of incorupt administration.

I am left wondering who will conduct this audit of British colonialism. Will it be a cross section of highly respected historians (of differing perspectives), or historians who are (from the outset of their investigations) convinced that the British Empire was a wholly bad thing with few (if any) redeeming features? From the wording of Labour’s Manifesto, I suspect that the latter will be the case, with left-wing (perhaps Marxist) historians carrying out “research” which will (when published) be hottly contested by other academics.

In education its vital that children learn about the British Empire, warts and all. If, however they only learn about the warts (with no acknowledgement of the positive role Britain played in the world), what they will be receiving will be indoctrination rather than education.

Racism is an evil (and also deeply stupid for there is no evidence whatsoever that the colour of one’s skin plays any role in determining intelligence). We share a common humanity and its right that the role of black people in this country’s history is acknowledged and celebrated. However I do not believe that what Labour is proposing is the right way to go about it.

As always I would be interested in the views of my readers.

Kevin

(From my archives) – “Kipling May Regret”

This poem first appeared here on 9 April 2017:

In the restaurant its just the waiter and I,
While outside the window Vehicles speed by.
“There are a lot of beautiful women outside today”,
He remarks by way
Of conversation.
I drink
My wine and think
About this nation
On who’s empire the sun would never set.

Kipling may regret,
Yet
The sun continues to shine
And there is curry and wine,
While in the street
Multiracial feet
Hurry
Along,
Beating out a more or less harmonious song.

“We are all equal” he said

“We are all equal” he said.
We nodded our collective head
For who can disagree
That all are equal? But what about free?

“Society is unfair” he said.
Once more, a nod of the collective head.
But who will give up his bed
For the tramp who carries his load
Along yonder road?

“Much of the map was once red
And the English have blood on their hands” he said.
So we dwelt on empire’s shame
And absolved today’s corrupt dictators of all blame,
For Mugabe is a saint
And it is quaint
To believe that the empire did any good
For, of course it produced only blood.

“Let us raise a toast
To the ghost
Of Marx” he said.
I shook my head
And headed for bed.

The hidden History Contained in Pages

There is much history in books, if one looks carefully enough. By this I do not mean those works concerned with history itself, nor am I refering to historical fiction. Rather I am referring to passing references, such as that contained in the 4-volume edition of John Buchan’s “The Thirty-Nine Steps”, which resides on the top shelf of the tall pine bookcase in my bedroom. The book’s title page reads
“… printed and published by the National Institute for the Blind, Great Portland Street, London W” and carries the date of 1938.

The National Institute for the Blind has, for many years, been the Royal National Institute of Blind People, and its head office is today located in Peterborough.

On turning over the title page, the reader comes across the following
“The price given for this book in the National Institute’s books catalogue represents the actual cost of production. The book is sold to libraries and institutions for the blind in the British Empire, and to blind persons resident in the United Kingdom, or in any part of the British Empire at one-third the catalogue price”.

The British Empire has, of course long ceased to be. However contained within the pages of the braille edition of “The Thirty-Nine Steps” I find a reminder of a vanished age.

I would be interested to learn of any books owned by this blog’s readers which contain interesting historical data. Please do comment below.

Kevin

Kipling May Regret

In the restaurant its just the waiter and I,
While outside the window Vehicles speed by.
“There are a lot of beautiful women outside today”,
He remarks by way
Of conversation.
I drink
My wine and think
About this nation
On who’s empire the sun would never set.

Kipling may regret,
Yet
The sun continues to shine
And there is curry and wine,
While in the street
Multiracial feet
Hurry
Along,
Beating out a more or less harmonious song.

Slavery’s Stain

The crack of the whip
Does strip
The past bare.
Who would dare
To lift the curtain
For it is certain
To make the sensitive squirm.

Growing up in Liverpool I was told
A tale of how the city was built on slave owner’s gold.
Many there money gave
In the hope their soul to save
To schools and foundations
That dignify the nation.

What can one say
For it is a long way
Back and distance
Leads to resistance
To compensation
For the Caribbean and African nations.
An injustice vast
Stains our past
But should the Europeans of today
Pay for the injustices of yesterday?

One can apologise for one’s own mistake
But what good can an apology make
For a wrong long gone
And done by another one?

Great Britain abolished slavery in 1807
And all was right and god was in his heaven.
No,
The woe
Caused by slavery did persist,
But should one then insist
On the payment of gold
To right wrongs untold?

We can not and should not forget
And yet
We must move on.
The slave owners are gone
And to apply modern morality to the past
Is, perhaps a thankless task.
Can we in conscience ask the guiltless of today
To reparations pay?
And, if so to whom
For the gloom
Has long since closed
Over those
Who where so cruely whipped
And stripped.

(https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/sep/24/slave-owning-families-influenced-uk-jane-austen-modern-rroyalty-eugenie-beatrice).