In the middle of the 19th century, the British Empire ran into what what would today be termed a “public relations crisis”.
by Paul Cudenec www.wimteroak.org.uk
Influential domestic voices were starting to criticise its industrial system and worldwide domination on ethical grounds, not least the art critic John Ruskin.
He wrote that all he had found at the heart of what was supposedly a great civilization was “insane religion, degraded art, merciless war, sullen toil, detestable pleasure, and vain or vile hope”. (1)
Lack of public support for the empire at home from the wave of “Little Englander” sentiment also risked affecting the way Britain’s activities were viewed abroad.
As Carroll Quigley writes, its success was partly due to “its ability to present itself to the world as the defender of the freedoms and rights of small nations and of diverse social and religious groups”. (2)
It was therefore decided, by a powerful group based around Cecil Rhodes and Lord Milner, along with aristocrats such as Lord Esher, Lord Rothschild and Lord Balfour, (3) to rethink the form and appearance of Britain’s economic sphere of influence.
Gradually, the Crown’s possessions were encouraged to become supposedly independent nations, though very much remaining under Britain’s wing, and eventually, after the Second World War, The Empire was rebranded The Commonwealth, whose current flag features at the top of this page.
In her foreword to a very useful 2019 collection of the Commonwealth’s declarations, its current secretary-general, Patricia Scotland (pictured), writes: “The 1949 London Declaration marks the opening of a new movement, maintaining the familiar harmony, yet developing it in ways never before attempted – the transformation of an empire into a mutually supporting family of nations and peoples. It was this brief yet visionary declaration which brought into being the Commonwealth we know today”. (4)
Today we are very familiar with the two-faced language of power, which is constantly deployed to hide unpalatable truth from the public.
Whether in the form of corporate greenwashing, warmongering “humanitarian interventions” or censorship disguised as “fact-checking”, this cynical misuse of words has long since surpassed the satire of George Orwell’s mendacious Ministry of Truth.
The phenomenon is global now, but Britain can look back with pride at its leading role in developing this fraudulent double-speak.