Tuesday, 3 January 2017

The Burden Of Empire

In parts of the media there is talk that Britain must admit to its errors and arrogance and what happened during the period of The Empire. We should be contrite and above all fork out huge sums to pay off the claimants.

Hang on a bit squire, as we of the humbler sort might say when doffing the forelock (is that quite right?) to our betters. By the time I was eligible to vote most of that Empire was history and the rest had more or less packed their bags and waiting for the legislation to complete.

My young ones are now middle aged and had nothing to do with any of the Empire and by the time they voted only a few ancients, largely old stranded Tories, were bemoaning that which was long lost. More to the point, it was the end of the 1920's before my parents could vote by which time the Empire was in place.

Of my four grandparents, three did not vote before 1918 and one never at all. None of my great-grandparents had the vote. In the generation before only one of 16 did, being eligible in one of the few constituencies with a wider franchise. Going back further, given the evidence the right to vote would have been held by very few at any time. Just how responsible were those that did not?

This is not a rare example; it is a common one. When it came to politics, the franchise and who made and carried out the decisions the great majority of the population were not asked and did not take part in making the decisions. In some parts of Britain and Ireland the Empire did not have much appeal.

Another question is who are the Brit's now? What about all those political migrants of the 1930's, fleeing from Hitler or Stalin? It might be argued that they benefitted from Empire in arriving in a Britain that gave them homes and life, but can they be blamed and should they have to pay?

When there is talk about this Empire we need to be aware that many of the present population come from places where it is said we should be compensating the populations? So does this mean that people who are defined as old Brit's pay, on whatever basis, but they do not although they have had the same alleged benefits?

I wish these learned academics and such like who point to the bad side of matters would consider the costs of Empire borne also by the ordinary Brit's. For example, how many of the poor labourers force marched into the military died of disease alone? Some of the figures are horrific.

The 4th Light Dragoons, later Hussars, lost close to 800 men in twenty years in India from disease. Why could they not have been found useful work at home? Our navy may have been the biggest and the best, but it had to be paid for and maintained. For a long time press ganging, flogging and bad food were the rule.

To assume that the Empire paid for it is wishful thinking. The real costs were vast and the distortion created in the UK investment and labour markets great. These distortions compromised the economy not only after World War Two but after World War One.

The Spithead reviews of our naval might were a wonderful sight and a splendid media presentation. We might have been better off putting most of the money into ensuring our trading and merchant marine capability matched that of America.

There is little thinking about the opportunity cost of Empire. All the effort and resources put into meant they were not available for other economic purposes. Given that the apparent profit and benefit favoured some areas, notably London, we assume "trickle down" when as far as many places were concerned it was more "trickle up" given the economic displacements that occurred.

In short we have a population at present very many of whom have little or nothing to thank The Empire for and  for those largely  British when we look back at our family histories see enough poverty etc. to wonder at who did benefit and who did not.

So why should any of those who descend from those who bore the "White Man's Burden" and paid the real price now be the ones to cough up to see the money go to those descended from the high castes of the Empire?

The picture above is Wapping at the height of Empire. The area is now something of a global media centre many of whose upper class commentators, descended from old elites, they being largely tax avoiders want to raise taxes for the ordinary Brit's.

These will buy off those wanting our money many of whom have their own interesting arrangements with the public funds of their own nations. I wonder just where the money might finish up.

The Cayman Islands? One of our last gasps of Empire?


  1. What about the Romans, who is going to pay for all the damage they did?

  2. when doffing the forelock

    Tugging the forelock and doffing the cap [or hat]. :)