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Friday, August 11, 2017

What have the British ever done for us?

"The 1940 Colonial Development and Welfare Act was in some ways more of a response to the 1930s than the war (see Chapter 1 for the Act’s origins). One of the most important influences on both American and British thinking during the Second World War had been the experience of the Depression in the 19305. The experience of the economic slump with the spectre of unemployment (and possible social unrest) haunted those in power. Melodramatically The Times recalled in 1943 that ‘next to war, unemployment has been the most widespread, the most insidious, and the most corroding malady of our generation: it is the specific social disease of Western civilization in our time’. The concern of the authorities to avoid a repetition of the slump shaped much of the response to the problem of the Second World War.

The Colonial Development and Welfare Act proved to be very timely in 1940. Although many of the elements of the act had been planned for some time, it was a tremendous aid to the Colonial Office in substantiating their claim to be developing the colonies, particularly once its budget for research had been increased. Christopher Thorne called the budget a 'niggardly amount’, although Viscount Bledisloe proudly claimed that ’no country except Great Britain would dream of embarking during a great war on social and industrial development involving a great outlay from the national exchequer.'

The interesting point about the introduction of the Colonial Development and Welfare Act was the recognition of the importance of the propagandistic element of economic policy. Malcolm MacDonald, when he spoke for it in the House of Commons, argued that the bill ‘breaks new ground’. In particular, he emphasized that the bill would increase the cost to the taxpayer of bringing about colonial development — implying that this was the morally higher goal.” When later, in 1942, Harold Macmillan reiterated the need for the Colonial Development and Welfare Act, he reminded the House of Commons of the political embarrassment of the problem of poverty and exploitation in the colonies."

Given that rights, citizenship and political status were major demands, it is significant that the Colonial Development and Welfare Act proposed changes on the level of economic support rather than increased moves towards self-government and equal political status. One of the expenses of the Act, however, was to establish a research committee to investigate both political and economic development. Hailey was appointed to chair and organize this committee once he had returned from a fact-finding mission in Africa to investigate ‘the volume and tempo of calls for self—government in the colonies’ and the future policy for native administration. In his report, he presented colonial policy as changing as a result of changed domestic politics, which viewed the ’government as an agency for the active promotion of social welfare’.85 Hailey recognized that economic development was a way of reinvigorating the imperial relationship, of reposing in this ‘new conception’ the ‘basis of a new philosophy of colonial rule’, as the Colonial Office repositioned itself as a vital guide in the path towards independence:

The interest now taken in this must not be viewed merely as the outcome of a humanitarian impulse or a manifestation of the general sentiment of ‘trusteeship’. This improvement of the economic and social life of the colonial population is an essential part of the policy, to which we stand committed, of fitting them to achieve a self-governing status.

The need to distance the Empire from any association with ‘exploitation’, particularly in the eyes of America, was not just a semantic question. Lord Bledisloe, in his attempt to back up Hailey’s argument for a ‘constructive interpretation’ of colonial trusteeship and, in particular, for the budget earmarked for colonial development and welfare, told the House of Lords frankly that:

Enemy propaganda which tried to disparage our treatment of the native races, and, on the other hand, the magnificent support in money, material and endeavour which the native races had afforded this country, made it desirable to emphasize that this was not a window—dressing policy which it was not our intention to carry out.

Hailey even claimed that the existence of racial consciousness in the colonies was itself proof of economic growth that had improved education and living standards."

--- Lord Hailey, the Colonial Office and Politics of Race and Empire in the Second World War: The Loss of White Prestige / S. Wolton
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