Empire state of mind – why do so many people think colonialism was a good thing?

A poll has shown that 43% of people think we should be proud of the British empire, apparently untroubled by its history of massacres, concentration camps and deliberate famines.

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Name: The empire.

Age: More than 400 years old.

Appearance: Pink.

Ooh, what’s up? Is it striking back again? No.

Are the Siths coming? Or going? I’ve lost track. Bring me my Star Wars box set. No, not that empire. The British empire.

The wha’? The British empire.

Oh, that. The sun-never-set one? Exactly. A fifth of the world’s population were governed by us at our 1922 peak, over a quarter of the world’s terra firma.

The subjugating-of-uncountable-millions-pillaging-of-their-lands-and-suffering-visited-upon-generations one? That’s an extremely fusty and old-fashioned view.

It’s really not. It really is, you know. A YouGov poll held ahead of Tuesday’s Oxford Union debate about removing the statue of Cecil Rhodes from outside Oriel College showed that 43% of British people thought that the empire was a good thing.

Were all those polled from inside Oriel College? No. And 44% thought that Britain’s history of colonialism was something we should be proud of.

Groping desperately for specks of hope in the mire of despair, I say that still leaves a majority saying it’s something we should regret. No, only 21% said that; 23% said “neither” and the rest either didn’t know or wouldn’t say.

So, basically, nearly half the population thinks the Amritsar massacre, the concentration camps during the Boer war and after the Mau Mau uprising, the post-partition violence in India caused by uprooting 10 million people, and the four million deaths from famine in Bengal while Churchill diverted grain to British troops and other countries were – what? Dunno. Not things they knew about? The price of doing business? We did bring a lot of economic development to places, you know.

I’m sure the bones of starving children thank you. Anyway, Churchill was wonderful in the war.

Was he? “I hate Indians,” he said, talking about the Bengal famine in 1943. “They are a beastly people with a beastly religion. The famine was their own fault for breeding like rabbits.” Um … all great men have their blind spots?

Is that honestly the best defence you have? That and this poll. Can 44% of random punters really be wrong?

Yes. Well, I mean, when you put it that way, yes, you’re obviously right.

Do say: “You ought to be ashamed of yourselves!”

Don’t say: “But without it, we would all have to learn foreign!”
Wednesday 20 January 2016 10.04 EST Last modified on Wednesday 20 January 2016 17.01 EST