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

By Philip N. Murphy | Go to book overview

Conclusion

Viewed in retrospect, Britain's 'decolonization' of Africa can appear as a gradual process of retrenchment corresponding to her diminished political and economic significance in the post-war world. As such, it might be expected that opinion within the Conservative party would divide in a relatively simple manner over the question of the desirability of Britain's abdication of imperial responsibility. Yet the issue of decolonization was never presented to the party in such an explicit form and, consequently, Conservative reactions were less clear-cut. In opposition from 1945 to 1951, the Conservatives for the most part displayed a genuine commitment to the preservation of a 'bipartisan' consensus in colonial affairs and showed little inclination to fight a rearguard action against the gradual transfer of power within the colonial territories. It continued to accept that the ultimate destiny of Britain's colonies was 'self-government within the British Empire'. The party also endorsed, as a continuation of the policy of the wartime coalition, the Labour government's emphasis upon economic development and the fostering of local democratic structures through which Africans could gain political experience. Yet by the time the party was returned to power in 1951, it had become clear that the government's ambitious plans for agricultural development were badly flawed and that African political leaders would not be content merely with participation in politics at the local level. Hence, outside the territories of Central Africa, where there seemed the genuine possibility of shoring up European control, the Conservatives had little choice but to accept the gradual assumption of power by Africans at the level of territorial legislatures and executive councils as the price which had to be paid for their co-operation. The most they could hope for was that in territories with a substantial European population this demand by Africans for political representation at the centre could be accommodated within the framework of 'multiracial' parties rather than radical mass movements. The 'decolonization' process witnessed by Tory MPs consisted of a series of constitutional changes, each one reducing in some measure the degree

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