Tuesday, 9 May 2017

British Politics and the Dream of Empire

Its a funny thing but one subject you never learn about as a child in this country is the British Empire. You learn about the Vikings, the Romans, the Tudors, the Industrial Revolution (exclusively as if affected England) and then you jump straight forward to the World Wars.

So on the one hand we have a period of our history that politicians love in invoke and yet don't want us to learn about.

That's suspiciously suspicious.

The simple fact is, that like every empire ever, the British Empire was a terrible thing for a lot of people and great thing for a very few. At its height the British Empire covered a quarter of this planet and at some point invaded all but twenty-two of the countries that presently exist. The Empire's sins include, but are not limited to, massacring civilian protesters in India and Ireland; being a vital corner of the slave trade for centuries; starting a war with China because we were buying too much tea; maintaining a vast opium distribution operation in India and China because we were buying too much tea; inventing the concentration camp; suppressing numerous religions in the name of Christian evangelism; sent in a man to oversee relief work for the Irish Famine that somehow made it worse (hint: it has to do with capitalism); resettlement of people that led to the usual consequences; and, setting off nuclear bombs on Australian Aboriginal lands.

And what is the popular image of this era in the British consciousness?

Agatha Christie adaptations: country houses with men in suits and women in modest dresses drinking champagne in the gardens. No talk of where the wealth comes from, no reference to or appearance of colonial subjects (or even any homegrown people of colour who, of course, would not be invented until the 1960s). So in the popular imagination you have a period made basically of parties, conspicuous wealth and no foreigners.

Funny how this country's supposed self-sufficiency back then was such a big part of the Brexit rhetoric last year and no wonder people fell for it so badly. 

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