Chapter LXXIII: Family Meeting Part I - The Newest Members
As a rule Britain tried to avoid Imperial Conferences; they always tended to involve the Dominions asking for, and getting, more powers and influence. While the progression from Dominions being told what was happening to being consulted was considered inevitable, and in many cases had already taken place, Whitehall saw no reason to encourage the process. Thus it was with a due sense of trepidation that the civil service arranged the 1936 conference, wondering which previously British area of policy would be subject to increased 'co-operation'. The Dominion Prime Ministers did not disappoint, exploiting the gains made at the Ottawa Economic Conference to have a greater say over trade policy and begin to intrude into military affairs such as grand imperial strategy and defence procurement. Before delving into such matters we must first deal with the expansion of the conference, the conference seeing several changes to the African membership of the Imperial family.
British central Africa at the time was best described as confusing. Starting in the the south the vast Bechuanaland Protectorate was in fact not a protectorate but a High Commission Territory administered by the Governor-General of South Africa. The poorest of the territories it had resisted all attempts to be 'lumped in' with any of it's neighbours and operated under the 'Indirect Rule' policy of letting the natives get on with their own affairs. Moving up the continent Southern Rhodesia was the complete opposite, rich from tobacco and chrome exports she was the only 'self-governing colony' of the Empire and the only colony represented by the Dominion Office not the Colonial Office in Westminster. Government was through an elected legislative council but from an almost exclusively white electorate. Heading north we logically come to Northern Rhodesia, not as rich as it's neighbour but catching up fast thanks to it's rich copper belt. While only a protectorate Northern Rhodesia had it's own elected legislative council for the urban areas with tribal councils running the rural areas as part of the policy of 'Indirect Rule'. In contrast to it's southern neighbour the electorate was far broader racially, though a good way short of universal suffrage. Finally the small protectorate of Nyasaland completed the region, while it had a governing council the membership was appointed by the Crown directly, a growing source of frustration for the settlers but an arrangement the Colonial Office was keen to keep as we shall see later.
The mid 1930s had seen a growing desire for amalgamation between the two Rhodesias with the aim of the union having complete self governance, a movement Whitehall had considered most ominous. The key problem for London was balancing the official 'enlightened' line of increased African rights laid down in documents like the Passfield Memo with the reality of practical white minority rule. It was one of the ironies of British colonial policy that the most 'liberal' colony in central Africa was Nyasaland; as it's council was appointed in London it was the only council in the region which actually put official policy into action. The Colonial Office therefore quite correctly feared that any Rhodeisan union without constitutional reform would effectively bury London's good intentions beneath the settler's self interest. The government was therefore tempted to follow the classic British solution, set up a Royal Commission to kick the problem into the long grass and get on with other less intractable problems. This outcome was avoided thanks to a chance meeting of the South Rhodesian Prime Minister Godfrey Huggins with his South African counterpart Jan Smuts at one of the many receptions held during the Conference, a meeting the British civil service would subsequently categorise as yet another good reason to avoid Imperial Conferences.
The two leaders hit it off immediately, shared Great War service and Huggins earlier enthusiasm for South Africa annexing Rhodesia doubtless helping, and soon discovered they faced the same political challenge; voting reform. In both nations the aim was to produce a system that looked fair, kept London and international opinion happy (or at least quiet) but ensured white majority rule. Drawing on ideas from both nations, and a few from Northern Rhodesia as well, the two men sketched the outline of a new political system; Partnership. The essential concept was to limit the electoral franchise by wealth and education, setting the bar such that the emerging black middle class passed it, but the majority did not, instead being represented by a limited number of 'Tribal MPs'. As a further gesture to London the idea of 'Indirect Rule' would be extended, using councils of tribal elders and chiefs as a form of devolved local government, the aim being to leave most native communities to their own devices on domestic matters.
When news of this new system reached the British representatives it caused a considerable stir and almost split the government; the Colonial Office insisting the proposed 'Partnership' did not meet the ideals of the Passfield Memo and was likely just a whitewash, on the other side the Dominion Office was far more favourable to the settlers and pointed out the proposal would still be a considerable improvement over the current situation for the natives. Such was the dispute that the two ministries were unable to reach an agreement and the matter was the subject of intense debate until, eventually, the Prime Minister was forced to adjudicate the matter in cabinet. This was a fortunate break for Huggins and the Dominion Office as Chamberlain was personally sympathetic to the 'White Man's Burden' under-currents of their position, as indeed was much of his cabinet. It should therefore be no surprise that Chamberlain came down in favour of unification with a 'Partnership' style constitution and the eventual goal of Dominion status. The Colonial Office did win a key concession, the newly united Rhodesia would retain the self-governing status of Southern Rhodesia 'until such time as the political system has stabilised'. The Colonial Office believed such an entirely arbitrary test would allow them to delay Dominion status until a more favourable solution than 'Partnership' could be devised.
Sir Herbet James Stanley. Governor of Southern Rhodesia, and a former Governor of Northern Rhodesia, he would serve as the first Governor-General of the united Rhodesia. A complex character he was an avid campaigner for the amalgamation of the region's colonies while also maintaining the official line on native rights. Indeed many in the region still resented him for having reserved vast acreages for native use and stopping settler land grabs while a young Resident Commissioner. As part of the general re-organisation the Bechuanaland Protectorate would be transferred from the South African Governor-General's office to his office. In addition he would gain a supervision role for the Nyasaland Protectorate's Commissioners, both moves part of Whitehall's plan to merge all four colonies and reduce the burden on the Imperial purse.
The announcement about a unified Rhodesia was something of a public non-event, mainly for the brutally frank reason that few people outside of Africa had much interest in the goings on in the dark heart of the continent. While there was some Imperial murmuring the fact South Africa intended to adopt a similar 'Partnership' style constitution muted criticism, the few Dominion politicians even aware of the issues were reluctant to criticise the internal policies of a fellow Dominion. Domestically there was slightly more opposition, including a minor back bench revolt from some of the National Liberals, but the legislation passed with relative ease. Interestingly the Labour party also split on the matter, the left leaning sections opposing the policy while the TUC faction took a more pragmatic view and gave it cautious, but heavily caveated, support.
The British interest in Libya began at the top with the British resident Duncan Cumming. The British interest in Libya was as much about denying the region to others as anything else, though there were many in government interested on 'turning a profit' from the British presence. While the Royal Navy preferred the docks and harbours of Alexandria and Valletta the other services maintained a significant Libyan presence and Imperial firms secured all of the rebuilding works initiated by the new Libyan government. The big work however was the Tripoli to Cairo railway, part of the great Imperial venture that hoped to connect up all the British railways in the region. The dream was to run trains from Tripoli in Libya to Basra in Iraq, requiring not only the Tripoli-Cairo line but also a connection across the Nile to the Palestine Railway and gap filling to reach the sprawling Baghdad Railway. While not as ambitious as those who hoped to revive the dream of a Cape to Cairo dream it was a measure of renewed British self confidence that the project had backing at the highest level in Whitehall.
Before we leave Africa, and the subject of the Imperial family, the conference also saw the formal recognition of the new Libyan state. The previous months had seen the Libyan constitution finalised and Emir Idris successfully installed as King Idris I of the Kingdom of Libya. With the British representatives keen to see the pro-Britain Idris secure the constitutional settlement left the King with considerable powers, though not the absolute monarchy Idris would perhaps have preferred. The final settlement saw Idris 'double hatted' as both King of Libya and Emir of the three provinces of Libya (Cyrenaica, Tripolitania and Fezzan), each province having it's own regional government but reporting to the central government for 'national' issues. The country itself was doing relatively well though it would take many years to fully recover from the Italian occupation, not least to rebuild the professional middle class that had been thoroughly 'pacified' by successive Italian governors. As expected the British influence on the country was considerable, starting with the large RAF presence at the Mellaha Air Base outside Tripoli and extending to the British firms tendering for the Libyan leg of the new Tripoli-Cairo railway. The new railway formed part of the Idris' plan to stich together his country, inspired by such ventures as the Canadian Pacific Railway or the Trans-Australian Railway it was hoped the railway would link together the three provinces as a symbol of a united Libya. For the British the key thing was that Imperial firms built it and that it would be inter-operable with their other railway interest, a good example of their policy in microcosm.
Sadly I've fallen of the 'Short and to the point' bandwagon and diverted into a vast splurge on central Africa. It was only supposed to be a paragraph.
In my defence the united Rhodesia flag is quite spiffing. Not much a defence I admit but it's the best I've got.
OTL the Rhodesia's tried to merge in 1936 but only got a Royal Commission that took 3 years to say "Yes, but later". By then the war intervened and the idea was shelved. Post war Labour ignored the entire issue so it wasn't until the 1950s it was raised again, by which point the face saving fudge was 'Federation' lumping together the richer North and South Rhodesia with the dirt poor Nyasaland in a Federal arrangement. That worked about as well as the other British federal ideas (i.e. very badly) so fell apart and the individual parts became independent eventually.
TTL with the last of the old Victorians as PM, not to mention a good smattering of old Imperialists in the cabinet, I think they get the go ahead to 'shoulder the white man's burden' or some such similar rubbish. 'Partnership' was a post-war OTL idea implemented by the British keen to avoid Apartheid spreading from South Africa and is theoretically not a bad idea for a slow change of power (though still clearly racist). Failed miserably when the white politicians didn't take it seriously, so Britain shrugged and went straight to independence and black majority rule. Will it go better TTL? Well Stanley was a fair governor but Huggins wasn't, so it comes down to a clash between the Governor-General and the Prime Minister. Which will be fun.
Finally Libya, after the annoyance of liberating the place to find Italian fascists in office I dropped the 1939 cabinet in place. The Tripoli-Cairo railway was, as far as I can tell, never really proposed but then post-war pretty much anything extravagant was out of the question. However I can see Idris being keen on a grand 'Libyan' project to unite all the coastal settlements, while Britain goes along as it can connect up all the various colonies, puppets and territories while making Empire construction firms some good money. As an added bonus the surveyors will probably find the Sirte Basin oil fields (OTL the Italians found subsurface oil 1938 so not out of the question)
- If I could get Japanese tanks in the SCW I would. I was tempted by a scheme as follows; Very early, stronger anti-commintern pact. Japan gets it's historic bloody nose of the Soviets but, instead of ignoring it, decides she needs to learn about tanks and armoured warfare. Using German connections she ships her prototype tanks to Spain to get some practice along side the Panzers.
Sadly I just can't see the Japanese military being that humble. Ah well.
- On the positive side France doesn't have the Popular Front so not Matignon Agreements, this will have helped the economy somewhat. On the flip side the fundamentals are still poor and the 1937 pay round will be a flash point, plus of course France, like the US and large chunks of Europe, is still 'on gold'. Should be fun all round in the next French update then.