Kwasi Kwarteng is a Conservative MP, and a Brexiter at that. This may or may not be relevant, but I thought it was worth setting out there first thing. In this history of the British Empire he picks six regions that came under British rule at some point (Iraq, Kashmir, Burma, Nigeria, Sudan, Hong Kong) and gives a sort of brief history and analysis of them during and after British control. He doesn’t set out with an idealistic opposition to empire (although I suspect he might be happy to if pushed), instead he strikes at a different argument. In a purely functional sense the Empire was chaotic, anarchic and badly managed – disinterest and a focus on individuals allowed for a massively (and constantly changing) diversity of policy.
Kwarteng’s writing is sometimes repetitive, and often uneven. In Nigeria, for instance, I came away with a desire to read post-colonial literature but no idea why the British were actually there. However, he does use each region to show troublesome aspects of the empire – the strict hierarchy of Hong Kong; the division sowed in Sudan; the priority given to particular cultures in Nigeria; the arbitrary decisions made in Kashmir; and the pointless adventurism of Burma. There may be bigger and better arguments against imperialism, but Kwarteng still convinces with the argument that even on its own terms, the empire was problematic. As a final footnote, as a Tory MP it does feel like he occasionally pulls punches – some relatively mild criticism of Chris Patten seems to back off, and he feels possibly a little too pragmatic on the topic of class.