The Birth of Empire: The British East India Company BBC2

So I’m watching this thing on BBC2 about the East India Company and this struck me:

In about 1605 a small group of British traders turned up in India, the world’s second largest economy, and started building factories. 300 years later the empire they built went tits up. In about 1995 a small group of British traders turned up in China, the world’s second largest economy, and started building factories……….

Immediately they turned to the ruthless pursuit of avarice, hard drinking and gratuitous womanising. Nothing ever changes, does it? 

Standard British male uniform for hot countries: Dark blue shirt, khaki trousers, dark coloured shoes. Everytime you see a British presenter abroad, that’s what they wear. That’s like working dress for British people abroad in hot countries or something and no1 dress would be the linen suit, dark blue shirt, and panama hat. 

Actually recently I’ve been watching everything I can by Niall Ferguson and I’ve bought two of his books and generally reading up on the British Empire and it’s actually struck me that actually we’re just back to the start of the 17th Century, the conditions are almost identical. We didn’t build the Empire because we were rich, we did it because we were dirt poor and it was dirt poor Brits going abroad to make money by importing things that couldn’t be found in Europe. 

I think that we in the UK faced with the rise of new superpowers like India and China have a choice, either we can be insular and parochial and worry about our European back yard or we can do what our ancestors did and be bold and commercially aggressive, go out into the world and trade, loot, invest and talk our way to dominance again. We still have a commonwealth out there, a commonwealth that is rich in natural resources, speaks our language, more or less, shares our institutions, more or less, if we joined with them in a single EU style economic zone it would form the fourth largest economy on Earth in geographically and strategically important places. A foot in Europe, a foot close to Asia a foot in the Americas, and maybe even a foot in Africa. 


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