Britain: the End of Imperial Statehood

Part of the Themes in Comparative History book series (TCH)


It is one of the central themes of this study that European decolonizations after 1945, particularly in their African dimension after 1956, arose more directly from changing conditions within the metropoles than they did from any metamorphosis at the periphery. Somewhat gradually and partially in the initial post-war years, accelerating after 1950 and climaxing towards the end of that decade, metropolitan societies became uncoupled from imperial routines and assumptions, and, as we shall see, ultimately became actively hostile towards their residual traces. The motives in this process were very mixed, and the trajectory of experience on the part of the relevant European powers distinctively different. We have already seen how it was de Gaulle’s grasp of the distorting effects of colonial obligations which detonated French decolonization in sub-Saharan and North Africa. But it is the British case of this subtle revolution in the mores of west European power which is most suggestive, since it was this country whose traditions and reflexes had been so quintessentially ‘imperial’. To do full justice to this chameleon-like change would really require a full-length study on its own. This chapter, however, will seek to elucidate the fundamental shifts at work by a short treatment of the Suez crisis of 1956, followed by a commentary on the changing context and revisionist consequences of that dramatic Anglo-French démarche.


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7 Britain: The End of Imperial Statehood

  1. 1.
    There is a voluminous literature on the Suez crisis. A good brief account is in David Carlton, Anthony Eden: A Biography (London, 1981) pp. 403–65.Google Scholar
  2. 1.
    The effects on British politics can be followed in Russell Braddon, Suez: The Splitting of a Nation (London, 1973).Google Scholar
  3. 1.
    and Leon D. Epstein, British Politics in the Suez Crisis (London, 1964).Google Scholar
  4. 1.
    Anthony Nutting, No End of a Lesson (London, 1967).Google Scholar
  5. 1.
    and Selwyn Lloyd, Suez 1956: A Personal Account (London, 1978) give two differing narratives from vantage points in London.Google Scholar
  6. 1.
    Christian Pineau, 1956: Suez (Paris, 1976) affords a view from Paris.Google Scholar
  7. 2.
    Sir Anthony Eden, Full Circle (London, 1960) pp. 260–1.Google Scholar
  8. 3.
    Sir John Bagot Glubb, Britain and the Arabs (London, 1959) p. 301.Google Scholar
  9. 5.
    David Goldsworthy, Colonial Issues in British Politics 1945–61: From ‘Colonial Development’ to ‘Wind of Change’ (Oxford, 1971) pp. 279–316.Google Scholar
  10. 7.
    See R. F. Holland, ‘The Imperial Factor in British Strategies from Attlee to Macmillan, 1956–63’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, xii, No. 2 (January 1984).Google Scholar
  11. 8.
    Humphrey Trevelyan, The Middle East in Revolution (London, 1970) pp. 135–205.Google Scholar
  12. 9.
    For a history of the early phases in the UK nuclear programme see Margaret Gowing, Independence and Deterrence, I: Policymaking (London, 1974).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 10.
    See A. R. Conan, The Sterling Area (London, 1952).Google Scholar
  14. 10.
    and A. C. L. Day, The Future of Sterling (Oxford, 1954).Google Scholar
  15. 11.
    The story of Britain’s changing attitudes to the integrationist experiment in western Europe is well told in Miriam Camps, Britain and the European Community (London, 1964).Google Scholar
  16. 12.
    Such pessimism, official and unofficial, was felt particularly strongly with regard to the West Indies. See D. J. Morgan, The Official History of Colonial Development. Volume Four: Changes in British Aid Policy, 1951–1970 (London, 1980) pp. 44–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 13.
    D. J. Morgan, The Official History of Colonial Development. Volume Three: A Reassessment of British Aid Policy, 1951–65 (London, 1980) pp. 191–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 14.
    D. J. Morgan, The Official History of Colonial Development. Volume Five: Guidance Towards Self-Government in British Colonies, 1941–71 (London, 1980) pp. 96–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© R. F. Holland 1985

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