17th October 2011
During the 2010 General election one of the biggest issues highlighted by the electorate was the thorny subject of immigration. Politicians were particularly vague upon the subject considering it was one of the biggest national concerns. I believe that immigration is one of the legacies of the British Empire.
It is generally recognised that the golden age of the British Empire was between 1783-1914. The British grew fat and wealthy on the resources and people of less developed parts of the world trading in both human and luxuries items such as spices and sugar. We ruled the waves and fought wars in order to maintain dominance over trade and we defended our Empire to the rest of the world by saying we were civilising and save souls in the name of Christ. Is it any wonder that extremist terrorists see the west the way they do? We created foreign policy that suited us as an Empire and global superpower as an island of nations; it was dubbed a policy of Splendid Isolation. But with the dawn of the 20th century we could no longer maintain this golden age of Empire.
When World War broke out in 1914, Britain utilized her empire to help fight the war and many young men answered a call of help from Britannia and subsequently lost their lives far from home, in a war that under normal circumstances would not have effected them had it not been for the British Empire. Restless regions feed up of being ruled by the British used these sacrificed souls to their advantage, so that those who lost their lives didn’t do so in vain. Cracks started to materialise in Empire but Britain knew she owed much to her colonised peoples. Three such nations that are excellent examples of this stage of the decline of Empire are India, in 1919, as the result of the government of India Act, Ireland in 1920 through the Government of Ireland Act and the independence of British mandate, Iraq, in 1932.
Britainstarted to compromise and loosens her grip on these treasured dominions in the vain hope she could kept hold of them, and their wealth, into the 20th century. However naïve this idea was, Empire would soon face a new challenge when World War II broke out, in 1939. Once again Empire found she gave up a generation of young men to be sacrificed for Britannia, for what could in the crudest terms be thought of as, a European squabble which was ignited and driven by revenge for harsh treaty terms set out at Versailles in 1919. Although Empire came through World War II as the victors; this gave restless dominions, hungry for independence, the justification as well as the opportunity to act due to the power vacuum left from an exhausted Britain and war battered Europe.
Harold MacMillan described the this breaking up, decline and death of the Empire as a Wind of Change in a speech made in South Africa while on a visit in February 1960. Wind of Change insinuates that the hand over and individual devolutions to power from former colonies was smooth sleek exercise but nothing could be farther than the truth. Take India as an example. It took hard struggle and rioting mass protest and the courage of individuals such as Ghandi to eventually get Britain to grant independence. Thanks to divide and conquer tactics used by the British while governing the indigenous Indians, deep routed prejudices were agitated and went on to complicated the difficult task of withdrawing from India. On 15th August 1947 a India was no longer part of the British Empire. She had been partitioned into what would become the Republic of India and the new predominantly Islamic state of Pakistan. Violent clashes between the two religious groups broke out and still irrupt from time to time today.
Indiawasn’t alone, around the world, even today; we can see the legacy of Empire and the effects of the hasty withdrawal from former colonial lands. These former territories of Empire have had struggles finding democracy to govern them. So when civil war and dictatorships fill the void left by Britannia in these former lands, where do the people turn to for help and support but the land and nation of their former governors, who through the passing of time and after the hardship of civil war or harsh treatment of a dictator, recall life under Empire as rose tinted and happy or at the very least stable. What happens next is that influxes of peoples immigrate to Britain hoping to regain stability in a democratic society once more. So who is then to blame for this overwhelming influx of peoples from around the world?
Surely we can not blame anyone else but ourselves. Whether we like it or not we have inherited immigration from irresponsible generations before us who, reaped the reward of Empire without caring for the consequence of their actions upon the people they governed and then deserted. Don’t get me wrong I am not in any way saying that Empire was a fabulous institution, that we were perfect rulers or that is morally acceptable to invade and control regions for their wealth of natural resources; because it isn’t. Nor am I saying that we should never have dismantled the Empire, because as we have seen from India and Ireland, sooner or later dominions and colonies would have and did demanded and be willing to fight in order to gain independence. What I am saying is the poor way in which our government withdrew from these countries has had lasting consequences, one of which has been the number of immigrants seeking a stable life under former governors who had offered a life of hope and advancement.
The question now is how do we in the 21st century resolve an issue without causing offence or encourage politics from the far right? It’s a fine balancing act and one that I fear will not be resolved in my life time.