UK – Britain should stop trying to pretend that its empire was benevolent

“Even when we are encouraged to pay attention to empire’s costs as well as its benefits, these costs are imagined solely in terms of specific incidents of violence such as the Amritsar Massacre in India or the suppression of the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya. Britain has excused itself from that most structural injustice of empire – the slave trade itself – by the fact that it was Britain that pioneered its abolition.

Acknowledgement that cities such as Bristol, Liverpool and London were enriched by Britain’s dominance of the trade, that many stately homes were built on its wealth and that the compensation money paid to owners upon emancipation – rather than the enslaved – helped drive the industrial revolution and the growth of the City of London, tends to be confined to more critical quarters.

By contrast, runs the same argument, the benefits that empire brought to the world are universal. Everyone – Nigerians, Afghans and Chinese included – should be grateful for the rule of law, the English language, modern education, railways and free trade, all things that Britain provided in order to usher in the modern age.”

The Ugly Truth


THE CONVERSATION – The recent debacle of David Cameron’s filmed condemnation of Nigerian and Afghan corruption and the Queen’s remark on Chinese officials’ rudeness highlights the persistence of imperial thinking in Britain. There seems to be a continuing assumption within the British establishment that it sets an example for others to follow and that the British are owed deference by others.

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