My research was initially concerned with race relations and Commonwealth migration into Britain in the 1960s. Exploring Enoch Powell’s unusual journey from empire fanatic to anti-Commonwealth evangelist I located the origins of his notorious ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech of 1968 in his experience of communal tension in India in 1940s. By highlighting the imperial dimension of Powell’s thought on immigration my research offered an original interpretation of the origins of the anti-immigration lobby in Britain and was published as an article in Historical Journal.
Subsequently I have been working more broadly on the complex process of colonial disentanglement, the subject of my forthcoming book, Duncan Sandys and the Informal Politics of Britain’s Late Decolonisation (Palgrave, 2017). My doctoral thesis was a study of the informal networks that developed between British, African and Arabian politicians in 1960s and their significance to the course of decolonisation. Duncan Sandys, one of the last colonial secretaries, was a focus of these networks thanks to his unofficial activities as a conduit and lobbyist.
My thesis also reassessed the degree to which politics in the 1960s was coloured by decolonisation in Rhodesia and South Arabia and immigration from the New Commonwealth, in particular the South Asian exodus to Britain from Kenya in 1967-1968. Interviews with surviving Kenyan Asian emigrants, the Gujerati press in Nairobi and records in the Kenyan National Archives demonstrated that the crisis was less a product of Jomo Kenyatta’s ‘Africanisation’ policy than British restrictionism. Sandys’ activism was also watched closely by radical Black Power activists in London. Although their political positions were diametrically opposed they shared a common readiness to locate Britain’s ‘race problem’ in the language and lessons of the colonial experience.
I am currently exploring post-colonial African comment on decolonisation through the medium of local radio broadcasting. Along with totemic events such as the Sharpeville Massacre and Rhodesian UDI, the Profumo Affair was an acid test for colonial / post-colonial relations in the wake of Harold Macmillan’s ‘Wind of Change’ speech. Radio transcripts held at the BBC’s Written Archive reveal that the Affair was the subject of lively and extensive discussion in the empire and Commonwealth, as well as keen empire-watchers such as the USSR and Egypt. The Affair was widely treated as an opportunity to critique Western attitudes towards gender, sexuality and politics, and to question the elite assumption that the act of decolonisation should give former imperial powers moral authority in the postcolonial period.