So British PM, David Cameron, has said that Britain is responsible for most of the world’s problems as he made a visit to Pakistan. When asked what Britain could do when it came to the dispute in Kashmir, he replied: “I don’t want to try to insert Britain in some leading role where, as with so many of the world’s problems, we are responsible for the issue in the first place.”
At home in the UK, he was criticised for being too ready to tell foreign hosts what they wanted to hear by saying Britain is responsible for everything bad that may have happened in its former colonies. The issue is too complex and cannot be simplified but I know it is a recurring and contentious one. In 2006 it came up in a different setting – when Radio 4 ran its This Sceptred Isle: Empire series and historians examined how Britain and other countries around the world have been changed by their experience of empire. Historian Niall Ferguson and academic Priya Gopal exchanged polemical blows on whether the former was an imperial apologist.
The British Empire operated differently from place to place, and any discussion of its possible benefits should take that into account and its negative impacts cannot be denied either. The whole point is to engage less in a polemical battle of views but more on learning about the past, knowing we cannot change it. Then doing what we can to change negative situations in the present. Not easy, I know, but more mature and effective perhaps?