MYTH OF THE EMPIRE; A New TV Series Will Trot out the Liberal Mantra That Britain Exploited the Colonies. Utter Balderdash, Says a Distinguished Historian. It Was the Empire That Exploited Britain
Barnett, Correlli, Daily Mail (London)
Byline: CORRELLI BARNETT
THE BRITISH as an imperial nation are suddenly in the news again.
Robert Mugabe repeatedly denounces the Government for its outmoded colonialist interference in Zimbabwe's affairs. He is furious with British objections to the brutal evictions of white farmers in favour of his own supporters who either have no agricultural experience, or who are primitive subsistence-farmers with no idea how to manage highly capitalised modern estates.
According to Mugabe, the destruction of the prosperity enjoyed by Rhodesia at the time when it became Zimbabwe is not the result of his own fantasising incompetence and that of his clownish colleagues, it is all down to Britain's colonial legacy.
With perfect, if unintended, timing, ITV is to broadcast tomorrow the first of a three-part series called The British Empire In Colour.
The colour film itself - which comes from the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol and dates from as far back as the Imperial Durbar in India in 1911 - is amazing.
Sadly, the actual commentary and its carefully selected voice- over quotations follow the standard Leftliberal line, whereby it is always the British imperial rulers who were in the wrong, and the peoples of the Empire who were either condemned to poverty or haplessly exploited.
Mugabe will surely approve.
The bias of the series is not surprising, since the chief historical adviser is an Oxford academic who believes it was Britain's fault that Hindus and Moslems in India began to slaughter each other on a mass scale as the British raj came to an end in 1947, rather than the fault of the Moslem and Hindu political leaderships.
YET THEIR failure to reach agreement on a future unified Indian state caused the partition of British India into the two states of Pakistan and India, and hence the murderous twoway 'ethnic cleansing' in the Punjab.
In contrast to the guilt-mongering about Britain's imperial role by the Left-liberals, a true-blue British elite proclaimed from the late Victorian era onwards that the Empire made Britain into the world's greatest power.
The repackaging of a historical ragbag of colonies and possessions into the 'pink- on-the-map' empire was completed by the elaborately staged celebrations of Queen Victoria's Golden and Diamond Jubilees in 1887 and 1897.
Between the world wars, imperial propaganda took such forms as the vast British-Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924, of which the Moghul-like twin towers of the football stadium are the surviving, although soon to be demolished, relic.
There was also an annual Empire Day fete for schoolchildren.
George V's Jubilee in 1935 and the Coronation of George VI in 1937 saw the imperial myth potently renewed, as colourful contingents from all the imperial forces marched in the procession through London.
Yet it wasn't only the man in the street or schoolchildren who, in the 1920s and 1930s, believed proudly in what I call the myth of Empire. The British ruling elite had come to believe it, too. There was a Committee of Imperial Defence and an Imperial General Staff, though both bodies were in fact purely British.
Every five years, Imperial Conferences took place in London. These were talking-shops attended by the prime ministers of the 'British Dominions beyond the seas' - Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. At Christmas, the King spoke on the wireless 'to the Empire'.
In 1934, Winston Churchill himself summed up in this newspaper what the Empire now meant to the British: 'Here we are on this 24th day of May, 1934, with the population of a firstclass power, 45 millions of us ensconced in this small island and dependent for our daily bread on our trade and Imperial connections.
'Cut these away and at least onethird of our population must vanish speedily from the face of the earth. …