Douglas Hurd

No rules to waive

Kwasi Kwarteng is a young Tory MP and it is right and proper that he should begin his analysis of the British Empire with a quotation from Disraeli. The fact that he is of Ghanaian origin shows merely that we live in an unpredictable world:

In the European nations there is confidence in this country …. While they know we can enforce our policy at the same time they know that our Empire is an Empire of liberty, truth and justice.

Kwarteng finds it remarkable that Disraeli said nothing about democracy or economics. This would indeed be strange if he had been either a democrat or a believer in free trade; in fact he was neither. Indeed the paradox of the British Empire stretches back and includes the mystery of the man who is widely regarded and almost always quoted as one of its principal founders. Disraeli remained an enigma, not least to himself.

Kwarteng is frank about the scope of his book. There must be something bizarre about an account of the British Empire which contains nothing about Australia, Canada or New Zealand, nothing about the Caribbean, and nothing about India except for an able analysis of the Kashmir problem. This selection can be justified only if the author uses it to produce an analysis which can be defended as a general truth about the whole Empire. Kwarteng sets about his task skilfully and concludes that the generalisation about the Empire can only be that there is no generalisation. He answers that there was no overriding policy, no coherence, no strategic direction.

The power of each colonial governor was essentially anarchic and the result was full of contradictions. For example whereas we decided not to annex Kashmir but sold it to an Indian Hindu prince, down the road in Burma we abolished the ruling dynasty in favour of direct rule under the Queen-Empress.

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