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Not an Independence blog

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Over the past two weeks I was asked a few times what I would write on this blog about Trinidad & Tobago’s achievement of 50 years of independence. The answer is: nothing at all. Of course, I joined in the celebrations (we even decorated our High Commission building) and during various events and ceremonies I took the opportunity to congratulate His Excellency President George Maxwell Richards as well as members of his government on the important achievement of 50 years of independence. And formal congratulations were sent from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and Prime Minister David Cameron.


But it may not be appropriate for a foreign diplomat to enter into the national conversation that inevitably accompanies an important milestone such as this one. One aspect of this conversation appears to have been some soul-searching that Trinidad & Tobago could have made more progress in its 50 years of independence.


 It’s always easier to talk about what might have been achieved as opposed to delineating what in fact has been achieved.  Many are better qualified than me to comment on Trinidad & Tobago—but if I turn to the United Kingdom and ask what has been achieved over the past 50 years, a starting point would have to be a reminder of exactly what was the state of the nation 50 years ago. It’s easy to fall into nostalgia and imagine that life was wonderful in the early 1960s—but is that borne out by the facts?


Britain in 1962 was a pretty backward place. Only two years earlier had Penguin Books faced trial for obscenity for publishing DH Lawrence’s novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover. The prosecuting counsel in the trial had asked whether the book was something “you would even wish your wife or servants to read.” Reading these words now they seem to be from the Victorian era, not the late 20th century. The objection to obscene language seems mostly quaint.


In 1962, the Race Relations Act, which outlawed discrimination on the “grounds of colour, race, or ethnic or national origins,” was still three years away. The quality of housing, levels of pollution, standards of healthcare, all of these have changed substantially in the intervening 50 years.


One of the most strikingly different aspects of life in Britain in 1962 was the use of capital punishment. In that year, a mentally troubled young man, James Hanratty, was hanged in Bedford Prison for the murder of Michael Gregsten. Subsequent use of DNA evidence shows that Hanratty’s conviction was sound, but within two years of his execution the last capital punishment had been carried out in the United Kingdom.


It’s easy for someone in 2012 Britain to look back to the 1960s and remember the Beatles, swinging London, Harold Wilson’s talk of the “white heat” of technological change and conclude that 1962 and 2012 were not so far apart. To do so would be to ignore the reality of daily life at that time.
Maybe the conclusion is that those old enough to remember Britain of 1962 may be too old to remember it clearly.  Might the same be true of Trinidad & Tobago?

Reprinted from a blog post at with permission from British High Commissioner Arthur Snell.


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