This article is from the August issue of Total Politics
Over Her Majesty the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, parties, pageants and the popping of corks consumed the nation – and many parts of the world.
For the Queen still reigns over 16 Commonwealth realms, from Australia to Antigua. Half a century ago, during the 1960s, the British Empire was unravelling at a fast pace, as the little pink bits on the map became a multicoloured tapestry of independent nations.
And Parliament was instrumental in the marshalling of a new era, ratifying each transferral of power, but also hoping to maintain an emotional solidarity – embodied above all by the Queen as head of the new Commonwealth.
In May 1962, Reginald Maudling, secretary of state for the colonies, presented the Jamaica Independence Bill to the House of Commons “some 300 years or more since the first relations between this country and Jamaica were established”.
Joan Vickers (National Liberal, Plymouth Devonport) welcomed the interest shown by British firms, such as Royal Worcester, in continuing to invest in Jamaica, and joked that there should be some economic “uplift” from the island’s burgeoning brassiere industry.
Donald Chapman (Lab, Birmingham Northfield) correctly foresaw “sticky days” ahead but agreed, “the outlook will be fair in the long run”, as long as Britain continued to invest in Jamaica and in the Caribbean generally.
In that vein, Charles Royle (Lab, Salford West) decried the government’s relinquishment of responsibility towards an independent Jamaica, whereby aid could no longer be given through the Colonial Development Corporation: “We cannot forget that we ruled the people for 300 years and we have a deep responsibility for the squalor and poverty which still exist.”
And showing genuine annoyance – perhaps to the sound of violins in his head – Royle complained that lowly backbenchers such as he still could not afford to go on holiday to Montego Bay.
The junior colonies minister, Hugh Fraser (Con, Stafford and Stone), wound up this brief debate by stating unambiguously: “Independence means independence; nothing more or less.”
Yet Fraser was equally unequivocal that Britain would do its utmost to ensure the island’s political stability. Moreover, the Queen’s continued role as Jamaica’s monarch meant an emotional and historic bond remained unbroken. Nigel Fisher (Con, Surbiton) called Jamaica “one of our oldest colonies, if not the oldest, and we are fortunate that she is still intensely loyal to the Crown and to the Commonwealth connection”.
It is a sad development that Jamaica’s prime minister Portia Simpson-Miller has pledged to abandon the Queen and turn the island into a republic. The Queen’s dutiful and ongoing service as head of the Commonwealth has aided political stability around the world.
The British Empire’s former colonies have gone their various ways, but they still share something very special, to the wealth of us all.
As the Jubilee celebrations showed, it would be a crying shame to let it go.