New tales of Empire from David Cameron

 A small treat for students of British imperialism especially  in Ireland where the agenda of withdrawal from Empire was set.  Only the Daily Telegraph so far picks out a  headline on these remarks by David Cameron who is keen to make a new start with Pakistan.  Odd, coming from the leader  of the historic party of Empire where the orthodoxy remains that the civilising mission, however flawed then and anachronistic today, wasn’t all  humbug.  Is Cameron taking Tory modernisation to new heights of revisionism or will he as I suspect he will, row back on the ad lib?   

 “I don’t want to try to insert Britain in some leading role where, as with so many of the world’s problems, we are responsible for the issue in the first place.”

Are we? Could 100,000 British in India hold back the tide of communal violence in an India of 350 million bent on splitting?  By complete chance, another part of the imperial legacy comes under close scrutiny tomorrow as a survivor of the terrible Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya in the 1950s appears in the High Court in London  to bid for compensation for suffering castration by his colonial master. It so happens that the Times  spreads across two pages the story of thousands of documents recounting grim tales of suppression from all over the Empire. The story, now disproved, had been that they had been loaded into a Lancaster bomber and dumped in the sea.   

And who at the time had made the loudest protest? Why none other than that most perverse of politicians in his famous denunciation of Hola Camp, Enoch “rivers of blood” Powell himself. To be fair to Enoch he was consistent about law order and justice. I remember when he was defending an ultra slim 500 majority in South Down, his last speech of the campaign in Shrigley Orange Hall was a stinging denunciation of Ulster Unionist support for capital punishment.  He lost the seat.

At least 12,000 rebels were killed, but atrocities were committed on both sides, and an estimated 70,000 Kenyans were held in prison camps as the British tried to quell the uprising.

It has been said — and it is a fact — that these 11 men were the lowest of the low; subhuman was the word which one of my honorable Friends used. So be it. But that cannot be relevant to the acceptance of responsibility for their death . . . In general, I would say that it is a fearful doctrine, which must recoil upon the heads of those who pronounce it, to stand in judgement on a fellow human being and to say, “Because he was such-and-such, therefore the consequences which would otherwise flow from his death shall not flow.”

Nor can we ourselves pick and choose where and in what parts of the world we shall use this or that kind of standard. We cannot say, “We will have African standards in Africa, Asian standards in Asia and perhaps British standards here at home.” We have not that choice to make. We must be consistent with ourselves everywhere.”

 It was the Colonial Secretary Iain Macleod who said of Powell: “I often start with Enoch on the train of logic. The difference between  is that I jump off before it hits the buffers.” Macleod stayed with that particular train though. It was he who sped up the retreat from Empire until it had virtually disappeared by the mid sixties.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

  • Chris Donnelly

    “sped up the retreat from Empire until it had virtually disappeared by the mid sixties.”

    ‘Disappeared’ except for the trail of destruction left in its wake…..

  • The Word

    An interesting development which, I’m sure, will not be lost on the Democratic Party in power in the US. There’s the beginning of an incentive for other empire and their builders to recognise that there are consequences to purely acting in the notional national interest. Loss of face being the big issue in our modern context.

  • Driftwood

    ‘his last speech of the campaign in Shrigley Orange Hall ‘ ?

    No such place, either Toye or Killyleagh, but I think it was MacMillan who said-‘poor Enoch, driven mad by the remorselessness of his own logic’

    Got my photo taken with him (age about 10?) with his creepy election agent, called Jeffrey I think.

  • orly

    “except for the trail of destruction left in its wake”


  • Brian, you wouldn’t use the excuse “atrocities were committed on both sides” if talking about Ireland.

    My books on the Kenyan resistance are still in boxes, but I remember the following:

    1. Very few white residents suffered – the fighting was between Kenyan askaris and farmers who had fled to the forests to avoid being interned, with the government forces then taking it out on those who stayed in their shambas.

    2. As in Ireland and Egypt, lots of families were interned, but not the fighters.

    3. A notorious British commander introduced torture in Kenya. After Kenyan independence he was sent to Bahrain, where he trained the security forces. There are opposition figures who remember him personally torturing them 20 years ago, but his trainees continue the practices on the protesters today.

  • HeinzGuderian

    Have to laugh at aul Brian. His every waking moment is filled with the desire to see the demise of the Greatest Empire this world has ever known………

    Here’s a wee tip for ya Bri…………Britain will always have a role to play in world affiars,whether you like it or not !!

    Why,only last week there was a conference of world leaders on Libya. Where was that Bri ? I forget………….;-)

  • HeinzGuderian
  • Drumlins Rock

    History is history and should be let be, the world changes, circumstances change and hindsight warps everything, yes it is good to look back and learn from mistakes, and occasionally new evidence comes to light that changes the mainstream view of events, but tampering and rewriting events to suit modern political views should always be avoided. Playing “what if…” is amusing and a good way to try out various scenarios, but has no place in the real world.

  • Apologising for the past has a role in politics but it has to be appropriate – that means the right time, the right place and in the correct context. It also has to have a purpose. Helping to heal a rift with a nation or a community is a fitting purpose. Mr. Cameron’s apology for the conduct of British soldiers on bloody Sunday was fitting and right and I have said that more apologies need to be made in relation to Northern Ireland (not just from a UK Prime Minister).

    The daily Telegraph, I am sure, would not crticise the Germans for apologising to Israel for the Holocaust.

    However, there is a balance to be struck here. Apologising is against the national interest if it lowers the estimation of Britain abroad. David Cameron needs to be careful not to create the impression that Britain is suffering from an overdose of national self-flagellation.

  • Turgon

    I am no fan of Enoch Powell and his rivers of blood speech was enormously inflamatory no matter whether he meant it reasonalby as he claimed afterwards or not.

    However, calling him “that most perverse of politicians” is utterly inappropriate from Walker. Of course there will be no comeback as Powell is dead and the dead cannot sue for libel. I can think of lots and lots of politicians considerbaly more perverse than Powell however much I may dislike his politics.

    People may call this man playing by me but surely this is a particluarly bad piece of man playing from Walker a supposedly serious journalist.

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    Doesn’t seem to have gone well with the Torygraph, presumably this speech is a product of the foreign office back office which generally takes a more reasonable and considered view on such matters than their political masters e.g Iraq

    …Enoch, would, if he were around today, surveying the state of race relations against a backdrop of the bombs on the tube say, with a degree of vindication I told you so

  • wee buns

    is ‘perverse’ such a derogatory adjective?
    ”Willfully determined or disposed to go counter to what is expected or desired; contrary.” (

    Cameron is ‘with the program’ at last; colonial autocracy, no longer approved of as it was by democratic thinkers of C19th.
    Pity his predecessor ignored the British people who didn’t want the war with Iraq, and being well aware of their state’s record for terrorism.

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    wee buns,

    “Cameron is ‘with the program’ at last”

    I’m not sure that is true – in this instance he may be following the foreign office advice as next door in Afghanistan as witnessed, by the attacks last week on Nato building is in a shockingly unstable state. Things could get a whole lot worse in the region and dimplomacy perhaps overriding Tory party ideology.

    An talking of Tory party ideology – as I understand it, in relation to Iraq, the Tories and Cameron in particular, still think, uniquely amongst the main Western powers, that the invasion was the correct thing to do – although more along the lines of American thinking i.e. regime change rather than Blair’s 30 minutes and we’re all doomed makeyup malarkey.

  • Driftwood. I can just imagine the ‘fury in unionists circles’ at the prospect of this being a foretaste of what they will be getting when the Queen is in Ireland next month. Cameron has already got their blood pressure rising last year after his Bloody Sunday apology. Perhaps her maj will be treating them to another indigestible dish of remorse over the hundreds of years of occupation. This doesn’t bode wel, for jeffrey et al.

  • Brian Walker

    Actually my piece delivers a mixed verdict on Empire and on Enoch whom I knew reasonably well.,( Michael Foot would have agreed). Sorry if it confuses anybody who insists on thinking in tramlines.. He was admirably scathing about excuses for loyalist violence and Paisley’s deliberately vague menaces at the time. He was bit barmy over America, as the nemesis of Empire and threat,. through Irish-American pressure as he saw it, to the Union. Any compromise from that direction like the Anglo Irish Agreement he abominated to the point of breaking with his part-protege Thatcher. She was to recant later and agree with him.(I don’t for what it’s’ worth; by that time Unionist intransigence had become a pointless default which ill served its cause and the whole community’s Something was needed to jolt them).

    Enoch lamented the fact that no C of I clergy in South Down was a High enough Anglican for him. Amazing character, brilliant but a complete loner .

  • Turgon

    A simple apology for calling Powell “perverse” would suffice. Brian Walker would never do anything as perverse as apologise.

    Of course since you call him “that most perverse of politicians” that must by its nature demand comparison with other politicians as “most perverse” must mean that others are all less perverse. So since your remark requires whataboutery Walker what about say Martin McGuinness. Is he less perverse? . He has a revisionist claim that violence here was solely for civil rights. He will condemn the murder of Cons. Kerr but not that of Joanne Mathers. But he is less perverse than Powell according to Brain Walker.

    Let us take an international example. Berlusconi has been up to all manner of nonsense with teen aged prostitutes and such like. But Powell is more perverse than him: after all Powell is “most perverse”

    If we were deciding who was most perverse of bloggers we might chose someone who did this blog: but oh that would be man playing and that would not be allowed here.

  • Turgon

    Sorry I think I have, in a perverse fashion, left us all in italics. I will attempt an unperverse remedy to that.

  • Turgon

    Ah good I have perversely removed the perverse italics.

  • Today’s Times reveals more about the Mau Mau cover-up. A telegram from Sir Evelyn Baring said how 8 British district officers had been involved in burning alive of detainees. General Eric Griffiths-Jones noted that the Convention on Forced Labour was being breached daily in the detention camps.

    1500 files were hidden in a stately home in Hanslope Park. In November the FO archivists denied the documents existed – but admitted they did in January when an FO official announced he was going there in person to look for the files.

    As for Seymour Major’s balance – there is no case for striking a balance between good and evil. It is not ethical to conceal atrocities from public view. Britons are not better than Kenyans. One injured Kenyan peasant is worth 10 soldiers who tortured him or 100 politicians who cover it up.