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Hailey: A Study in British Imperialism, 1872-1969.

Lord Hailey was the last great symbolic figure in the history of the British Empire. For contemporaries and historians alike he became the embodiment of a thoroughgoing commitment to political reform and colonial development which took hold during and after the late 1930s. More than this, he signalled the shift of Africa to the centre of Britain's colonial concerns and interests. This is the Hailey most of us know, and perhaps the greatest service performed by John Cell is to supply the missing dimension through a close examination of Hailey's Indian career and how it paved the way for his later ascendancy. This is not a biography in the conventional sense: too little is and can be known about Hailey's personal life to make this possible. Rather it is the study of an exceptional record of service spanning the erosion of imperial authority from "high noon to sunset" (p. xii).

Hailey's Indian career (1895-1934) covered nearly forty-five years and it occupies over two-thirds of this book. Cell stresses how formative was the influence of the Punjab tradition, with its mixture of authoritarianism, paternalism and agrarian reform on the young Indian Civil Service recruit in the late 1890s and early 1900s. His experience as a colonization officer in the Jhelum canal colony gave him an insight into the problems of imperial rule not available in the secretariat. As his gifts for analysis and organization, and his compulsive appetite for work, took him tip the administrative ladder from chief commissioner of Delhi during the First World War to Finance and then Home Member of the Viceroy's Council immediately after, he began to appreciate the force of the emerging nationalist movement and the need to meet it with a mixture of firmness and moderate reform. Hailey's report for the Punjab government on the Amritsar massacre of 1919, with its circular arguments in defence of General Dyer's actions, revealed an "ambiguity" which cell points to again and again in the course of his study. As governor of the Punjab and later the United Provinces, Hailey showed a flair for the "long game" and for meeting his challenges, notably his confrontation with the Sikhs, with insight and a politician's sense of timing. He deplored communalism, but exploited it where necessary. His intellectual appreciation of the need for compromise and concession was offset by a strong desire not to be shown up.

Drawing on his research in India and the UK., Cell traces Hailey's governorships through one tumult after another. Although the text is densely packed with detail, Cell keeps the major themes well in view and provides a pungent, often critical, though never unsympathetic commentary about Hailey's activities and style. It is clear that what marked him out from his I.C.S. contemporaries was his quickness of mind, and his ability to maintain an often precarious balance between reform and repression. He could be the good bureaucrat, the political fixer or the philosopher of imperial responsibility as the circumstances required. While Cell does his best with the materials available, it must be said that Hailey remains a somewhat shadowy, one-dimensional figure throughout the book. We are given occasional glimpses of personal sadness and family tragedy. However there is no fund of reminiscence, diary confession, anecdote or table talk to bring Malcolm Hailey alive on the page. Even as a public figure, where his social and debating skills were clear assets, he is seen largely through his reports and speeches.

In the later 1930s, Hailey's prestige as a ruler and adviser to the British government was transferred to the cause of African research and colonial reform. Cell, in a fascinating chapter, shows that Hailey's time as director of his famous African Survey was actually one of acute personal crisis ending in complete breakdown. To a large degree, he was a victim of his own methodical, perfectionist work habits. But while his contribution to the finished product was modest, and the significance of the volume has been exaggerated, its very appearance allowed him to emerge as the leading authority on colonial development and African administration during the following decade. Cell is correct in underlining Hailey's importance as an adviser on and propagandist for British colonial policy during the Second World War, though it is misleading to state that Hailey was ahead of government thinking in pressing for regional councils in 1942. After 1943, Hailey's influence began to decline, and while still consulted by governments, he never again found himself at the centre of things. He spent the last twenty years of his life revising his writings and looking on with a mixture of sadness and horror as the empire fell to pieces. Cell's study may not be able to tell all we want to know about Hailey the man, but it fulfils a major need in documenting and illuminating the career of Hailey the imperialist.
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Author:Petter, Martin
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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