Britain and the Commonwealth Alliance 1918–1939 by R. F. Holland

By R. F. Holland

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It was, it must be said, an appeal to political imagination rather than fact. There was not a Commonwealth system ·any more than there was an international system, or a Western system or any other kind of system. Coalitions of power in the world were too complex, too contradictory, too overlapping for such abstractions to have an easy validity. But, however illusory they may have been, such ideas were important if people (policymakers, bureaucracies and electorates) were to make sense of their political environment and formulate their self-interest.

Recognition of this went far beyond the Milnerite connection and coloured attitudes throughout the political public. Thus imperial reorganisation was a response to the heightened sense of competitive nationalism in international politics. This emphasis on an imperial block, however, was contradicted by the salient fact that the war had integrated the UK more closely than ever into a European system. Financially there were the huge war debts owed to Britain by her European allies, particularly France, and the reparation payments owed by Germany.

The Canadian response proved disappointing, and although more success was had in Australia and New Zealand, the recruitment scheme never got off the ground. 33 The problem was that increased exchanges at such elite levels were never likely to effect the restructuring of public attitudes that Amery had in mind. '. 34 Hitherto the press in each Dominion had carried very little on the outside world, and what little there was tended to be about Britain rather than other Commonwealth members; whilst the British press was rarely to be seen reporting on Australian wool-shearing or the progress of the Canadian harvest.

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