The Civilizing Mission

I suppose it could be regarded as proof of the success of the ‘civilizing mission’ aspect of British imperialism that so many of Britain’s ex-subjects and their progeny have become so civilised as to have risen, in the space of just one generation, to the very top of Britain’s ruling hierarchy, without their ‘race’ standing in their way. Mind you, they had to leave their ex-colonies to do it; but that too could be counted to the credit of Britain’s liberal – and Empire-inspired – immigration laws for ‘Commonwealth’ citizens, before the more restrictive Immigrant Acts of 1962 and 1968 came along. ‘Civis Britannicus sum’ (Palmerston) was one of liberal imperialism’s proudest boasts, and what enabled so many British West Indians and others to make their homes in the ‘mother country’, contributing vitally to its economy and society; from Empire Windrush on.

My correspondent Tony (above: https://bernardjporter.com/2022/09/07/diminishing-returns-2/#comments) draws attention to the hard-Right political orientation of those of them who feature in Truss’s cabinet, as they did in Johnson’s; which might seem surprising to those who would presume that ex-colonial subjects (albeit at one remove) wouldn’t want to be associated with their former oppressors’ favourite party. (Kwasi Kwarteng’s book, my review of which I can’t find just now, is pretty critical of old Tory imperialism.) There are reasons for this. One may be a need for ‘outsiders’ to appear as ‘British’ as possible, in order to be accepted; and how much more British can you get than to be a Right-wing Tory? Female politicians might feel that something similar is required in order to be accepted by Tory male chauvinists; hence Thatcher’s very ballsy demeanour and policies. (And Priti Patel’s, of course.) Another factor might be that to be an immigrant – to flee from your country, in the face of great obstacles – you need to be enterprising and ‘aspiring’, which naturally inclines you (and your children) towards the most entrepreneurial and aspirational political Party in the country, which is generally taken to be the Tories. It also helps to be rich, which has almost never been subject to a colour bar, and which most of the leading ‘ethnic minority’ Conservative MPs are. It’s this that has smoothed their path to the top. Not many poor Indians or Africans have been able to make the same journey. They’re generally to be found in the Labour Party, if anywhere in politics.

And of course there are plenty of them on that side of the political divide. It is certainly not true to say that ethnic minorities, as a whole, are more likely to be Tory than Labour. Probably their political affiliations pretty accurately reflect those of the broader communities they’re part of; and especially their economic statuses (stati?). The Tories have Rishi Sunak; Labour has David Lammy. It’s what you would expect, if all of them were as white as snow.

About bernardporter2013

Retired academic, author, historian.
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2 Responses to The Civilizing Mission

  1. Phil says:

    The Conservative Party – and, for that matter, the Right of the Labour Party – does now seem to be permeable to non-Whites who tick all the other relevant boxes, but that hasn’t always been the case. 30 years ago a Black politician was far more likely to be a left-wing radical – a Diane Abbott or a Bernie Grant – than anything else, purely because it was only in left-wing radical circles that the racism that was a legacy of colonialism* was seriously challenged. (Just as, 60 years ago, a female politician was far more likely to be a Barbara Castle or Jennie Lee than a Thatcher.) With a few exceptions, we’re genuinely a less racist country than we were when I was a kid – and the price of that is the ascent of awful people like Priti Patel and Suella Braverman.

    *carefully avoids word beginning with I

    Like

  2. Phil says:

    The Conservative Party – and, for that matter, the Right of the Labour Party – does now seem to be permeable to non-Whites who tick all the other relevant boxes, but that hasn’t always been the case. 30 years ago a Black politician was far more likely to be a left-wing radical – a Diane Abbott or a Bernie Grant – than anything else, purely because it was only in left-wing radical circles that the racism that was a legacy of colonialism* was seriously challenged. (Just as, 60 years ago, a female politician was far more likely to be a Barbara Castle or Jennie Lee than a Thatcher.) With a few exceptions, we’re genuinely a less racist country than we were when I was a kid – and the price of that is the ascent of awful people like Priti Patel and Suella Braverman.

    Like

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