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The development of labour colonial policy, with special reference to Africa between 1918 and 1939

Wright, David I

The development of labour colonial policy, with special reference to Africa between 1918 and 1939 Thumbnail


David I Wright


The Labour party's colonial policy, particularly towards Africa, has not been as extensively studied as its international or its domestic policy. However, colonial policy is important in indicating the nature of the Labour party in its formative years. This study is concerned to examine the development of the Labour party's policy towards the African colonies and to ascertain whether the Labour party kept its promises on colonial policy to try to ensure that Africa was governed in the interests of the Africans. An attempt will be made to ascertain how far the Labour party has achieved what might be expected to be the aims of a 'democratic socialist' party as far as colonial policy towards Africa is concerned. A study of the policy-making process for colonial policy also shows whether the Labour party's claim to be a democratic policy-forming body was true for all areas of policy. The main aim is to discover whether the Labour party's reputation for a positive colonial policy towards Africa is justified.
The interwar period is of particular interest because it was during this period that the Labour party developed into the main opposition party to the Conservative party and had its first experience of office. Before the First World War there was little serious discussion within the Labour party concerning the problem of the colonies, particularly the rights of the Africans. By the outbreak of the Second World War the African people were beginning to demand independence for themselves. It was during the interwar period that Britain had an opportunity to prepare the African colonial peoples for future independence by peaceful means. Although the Labour party was not in power for most of this period, it did have the opportunity to show the African people whether it was determined to do all it could to press for their progress towards independence. It was during the interwar period that the Labour party had the main opportunity to develop a positive African colonial policy for implementation when it achieved power.
This study has concentrated -on Labour party documents, parliamentary reports and papers. Cabinet papers, departmental papers and private papers. Attention has been paid to the Labour party*s performance in Parliament because the Labour party committed itself to using Parliament as the main means of achieving political change. An attempt has been made to determine what effect the Labour party’s decision to follow British constitutional practice had on the party's policies. Emphasis is also placed on the work of the Labour Party’s Advisory Committee on Imperial Questions which was mainly responsible for formulating the party’s colonial policy.
towards Africa. The study begins with a brief discussion of the thinking of Labour party figures on the African colonies before the outbreak of the First World War to show that there was no coherent colonial policy before the First World War. The period after the war produced the first important statement on colonial policy prepared by the Crown Colonies Committee which was a forerunner of the A.C.I.Q. This policy was largely ignored by Thomas when he was Colonial Secretary. After the fall of the first Labour Government, the policy was restated by the A.C.I.Q., gaining official N.E.C. backing and international approval at the Commonwealth Labour Conference and the Labour and Socialist International. Lord Passfield, the second Labour Colonial Secretary, was not very determined to implement this policy,
much to the disappointment of the A.C.I.Q., although he did produce a White Paper on Native Policy and set up a Joint Committee on Closer Union« After the collapse of the Second Labour Government, the A.C.I.Q. again revised the colonial policy pamphlet which was discussed at the 1933 party conference. It also issued a pamphlet on the issues raised by the German and Italian claims for colonial territories.
With the beginnings of industrialisation in Africa, the T.U.C. began to show interest in colonial affairs and set up a Colonial Advisory Committee, largely staffed by members of the A.C.I.Q. Labour colonial policy towards Africa was largely made by a small group of experts who were motivated by humanitarian concern for the Africans. The majority of the party showed little interest in colonial affairs.
The party did not study the complex issue of economic development in the African colonies in any detail. The Labour party did not achieve as much as it could have done to protect African interests in the interwar years, mainly because the leadership was unwilling to abandon traditional British assumptions about colonial policy. There was remarkably little development in the Labour party's African policy in the interwar years. The Labour party's failure to develop its colonial policy towards Africa during this period meant that it was ill-equipped to cope with the rapidly changing situation in Africa after the Second World War. The Labour party has a better reputation for helping the African people than is warranted by its performance in office. Those members of the party such as Wedgwood, Leys, Ross and later Brockway who did devote time and effort to trying to help the Africans were often ignored by the leadership when the party was in office. Creech Jones did make a more determined attempt to implement Labour*s policy than Thomas or Passfield but the policy was no longer appropriate in 19^5 because the interwar years had been largely wasted.

Publication Date Jan 1, 1977


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