The ‘New Deal’ for Cyprus

In July 1946, Hall, the secretary of state for the colonies, outlined to the Cabinet that while enosis ‘had for long been the main political cry in the Island’, the relatively recent development of ‘a rapid and dangerous spread of Communism’ by a ‘strong Communist Party’ had transformed the situation in Cyprus. Hall warned that since the municipal elections in May, AKEL had ‘emerged as the dominant force’ and that it was busy ‘conducting a campaign with growing vehemence, which has allied Communist doctrines with the demand for union with Greece’.2

As part of Labour’s ‘new approach’ to colonialism, Hall’s answer to the threat of AKEL was ‘a more liberal regime’ in Cyprus, which sought to address local discontent upon which the communists thrived. Hall’s proposals included a ‘new constitution designed to give Cypriots an effective say in local affairs’ as well as ‘a large-scale scheme for the development of the island and the improvement of its social services’. He also requested a ‘firm statement’ of Britain’s intention to retain sovereignty, for which the Cyprus government had so longed. Hall was forced to compromise on this last request, however, as Bevin was adamant that such a statement would harm Greek Prime Minister Konstantinos Tsaldaris’s domestic standing and Anglo-Greek relations.3 Bevin wrote to Hall, ‘You can imagine the play which the Russians and their Communist agents in Greece will be able to make’. Bevin and Hall instead agreed to a more neutral statement that ‘no change is contemplated’.4

While London worked out the details of Hall’s plan, the Cyprus government laid the groundwork for major reform. In March 1946, the Flags Law, which had banned the flying of all flags apart from the Union Jack, was repealed without replacement. The next step came in October with a change in leadership. Lord Winster, a former Labour MP and a wartime minister of civil aviation, was named the governor-designate. The Cyprus government then released the remainder of the Pancyprian Trades Union Committee (PSE) leaders, who had been imprisoned earlier that year. Finally, the Cabinet agreed to Hall’s proposals (except for the statement) and, after the Cabinet reshuffle, Creech Jones, the new secretary of state, announced his predecessor’s ‘new deal’ for Cyprus.5

This new deal promised a restructuring of Cypriot national politics and ‘a more liberal and progressive regime’. First and foremost, Creech Jones instructed Woolley to organize a representative consultative assembly to study the introduction of constitutional reforms and the restoration of a central legislature (which was abolished in 1931). Second, Creech Jones introduced a ten-year economic development and social welfare programme, which pledged some ?6 million towards ‘every aspect of the island’s life and economy—agriculture, and irrigation, the forests, medical and education services, the expansion of the ports, the provision of tourist facilities and so on’. Third, the Cyprus government repealed the Church Laws, which had prevented the election of an archbishop since 1937, and granted the 1931 exiles permission to return to Cyprus.6 However, as Creech Jones would argue four months later, without a firm statement of Britain’s continued sovereignty over the colony, the new deal was unlikely to discourage pro-enosis Cypriots or attract long-term private British businesses and investment.7

Holland has interpreted the new deal as an example of the British Labour Party’s ‘liberal instinct in colonial and imperial policy’.8 More importantly, however, these reforms also corresponded with AKEL’s popular political platform as well as with a number of common and embarrassing criticisms found in communist anti-colonial propaganda. The new deal was less an instinct than a strategy, as part of Labour’s new approach of colonial reform intended to counter anti-colonialism and to meet their communist enemies on the cultural battlefields of the imperial Cold War.

The new deal was received in Cyprus with mixed reactions. The appointment of Winster disappointed those who had hoped that Woolley was to be the last British governor. And despite Winster’s appointment indicating Cyprus’s increased importance to the British government (demonstrated by the fact that Winster had been a Cabinet minister, although without a seat), his experience with aviation was interpreted as an indication that Cyprus was going to be converted into a military base. This, combined with the economic and social development programme and constitutional reform, demonstrated for many the indefinite deferment of enosis. Ultimately, the general attitude of the Cypriots, according to Turnbull, was that ‘while the many nice phrases regarding the future welfare and administration of the colonies might echo favourably among coloured people, they aroused no interest among Cypriots whose unalterable national creed and demand was enosis’.9

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