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Old September 15th, 2012, 05:28 PM   #1

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How much of the British Empire could have been saved?

Following WW2, the British Empire collapsed. Arguably, many of the smaller colonies could have been kept. Other colonies could have had pieces taken off. Other protectorates and client states could have been maintained.

What could have been kept, and how large could the British population have been (UK + overseas territories)?
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Old September 15th, 2012, 08:56 PM   #2

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Arguably Britain is still connected to its former colonies via the Commonwealth. However there was no money or the political will to hang on to the colonies directly after WWII. Britain was broke and had a huge task in rebuilding at home. The colonies that actually made money, Australia, NZ Canada and South Africa were already independent and India soon would be. Most of the other colonies actually cost Britain money so no doubt the British government was secretly glad to get rid of them when the US put pressure on to do so.

I think Britains biggest mistake was joining the EU and not pushing for a Commonwealth trade bloc. Such a bloc would have the advantage of being politically similar, geographically diverse and possessing almost every natural and economic resource there is.
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Old September 15th, 2012, 09:10 PM   #3

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I thought smaller colonies like Gambia and Sierra Leone turned a profit.

I heard somewhere that some regions of India still liked Britain, I think Karala was one though I could be wrong.

Plus there were some colonies that had to be kicked out.
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Old September 15th, 2012, 09:16 PM   #4

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It would have been preferable to hold onto some of the countries a bit longer, I think India could have been a far more powerful country if independence had left her intact. Naturally their independence should happen some day but I think the strength of the British system did have some benefits, common law, policing and trade etc. I actually heard rumours from some old army chaps who served abroad that some of the natives actually preferred being under British rule and still listened to BBC world service every day.

I hear the Australians might want to become a republic too, those Yanks have been giving them dangerous ideas about liberty and freedom no doubt. One day their ridiculous experiment will come to an end and they'll ask return to the crown, it's only been 236 years. Give them a bit more time to realise the gravity of their mistake...
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Old September 16th, 2012, 01:44 AM   #5

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They could have held onto parts of Africa at least (if they wanted to keep them)... and certainly the Suez Canal (buts lets not talk about that).

I agree with Belgarion - the Commonwealth should've become a trade block. Surely such an entity would be strong it be today (and Britain in much less dirt), especially alongside the US, which is now desperate need of stronger allies. Through it, the British Empire could have survived in a much more definite way, as opposed to the ghost that it is today.

The British Empire was one that ended too soon.
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Old September 16th, 2012, 02:36 AM   #6

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The two world wars destroyed the British Empires economy. There was no chance that the British could control their Empire like they did before the wars. As Nial Ferguson states in his "Empire, rise and demise of the British World Order"

"Between 1947 and 1987 British defence expenditure had amounted to 5.8% of the GDP. A century before, the proportion had been a mere 2.6%. In the 19th century Britain had financed her chronic trade deficit with the income from a vast overseas investment portfolio. That had now been replaced with a crushing foreign debt burden, and the Treasury had to meet the much larger costs of nationalized health care, transport and industry.
It was, as Keynes said "primarily ... to meet the political and military expenditure overseas" that Britain turned to the US for a loan when the war - and Lend-Lease - ended in 1945. But the conditions attached to the loan at once had the effect of undermining British overseas power. In return for $3.75 billion, the Americans insisted that the pound be made convertible into the dollar within twelve months ... "

Thus pretty much Britain with the loss of all profitable colonies could no longer afford an Empire abroad in any way unless the Americans attached less demands to the loans they were giving to the British.
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Old September 16th, 2012, 03:45 AM   #7

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I agree...the break up of the British empire was inevitable. Those who wanted to stay have stayed. Those who wanted to leave, left.
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Old September 16th, 2012, 04:31 AM   #8

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Newfoundland even came back for a few years, until their domestic problems had been sorted out.
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Old September 16th, 2012, 08:33 AM   #9
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I still think the more pertinent question would be if any of them would be worth the cost of holding on to?

That's the way de Gaulle played it with the French. You might light sailing ships and steam trains, and get a shudder of pleasure looking at a map of your empire, but that stark truth of the matter would still be that these were things whose day had passed, and just weren't worth the bother.

Imagine the British Empire pulling something like Portugal did, sinking a fortune it didn't have into a moribund empire that didn't want them all the way up to sometime into the 1970's? Not pretty, and no bloody use at all for Britain imo.
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Old September 16th, 2012, 08:48 AM   #10

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Originally Posted by shivfan View Post
I agree...the break up of the British empire was inevitable. Those who wanted to stay have stayed. Those who wanted to leave, left.
IIRC, there were a few colonies that had to be kicked out. Guyana and Fiji come to mind.

If you really want to go back in history, the whole island of Ireland would be a dual Monarchy with Britain right now if it hadn't been for WW1.

Maybe the British could have taken Argentine Tierra del Fuego in the Falklands war, or Heligoland after WW2, though I think the world may have frowned on territorial expansion.
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