Party Politics and Decolonization: The Conservative Party and British Colonial Policy in Tropical Africa, 1951-1964

By Philip N. Murphy | Go to book overview

6
The Context of Conservative Discussions of Colonial Policy

The Conference System

A paradoxical feature of Conservative party politics during the 1950s is that on the eve of the decolonization of Africa there was a rapid expansion in the institutions through which party members could express their views on colonial affairs. This chapter examines the activities of these bodies, paying special attention to the ways in which their organization and links with interest groups outside the party affected their attitudes towards the government's handling of African affairs. In particular, it seeks to explain why the Conservative Commonwealth Council, the party's major extra-parliamentary discussion group, became such a focus of resistance to the government's policies while other sections of the party displayed a more flexible attitude.

Before examining those bodies which were established for the specific purpose of promoting the discussion of colonial issues, something must be said about the Conservative conference system and its bearing upon the debate over Africa. Richard N. Kelly has recently made a cogent case for a reassessment of the influence of the contemporary conference system.1 Kelly believes that there has been a tendency to underestimate the importance of party conferences in keeping the Conservative front bench in touch with the mood of their extra-parliamentary supporters. He notes that in addition to the annual conference of the National Union, a variety of other Conservative groupings hold conferences throughout the year enabling the leadership to take soundings from all sections of the party. In the field of colonial affairs, however, it is difficult to regard the conference system as other than peripheral. An analysis of the motions submitted to the annual conference by constituency parties from 1955 to 1963 has revealed that colonial issues aroused far less interest among party

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1
Richard N. Kelly, Conservative Party Conferences: The Hidden System ( 1989).

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