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‘Land and empire: politics and the British aluminium company’ : Paper to the European Business Association Conference, Glasgow

Perchard, Andrew (2010) ‘Land and empire: politics and the British aluminium company’ : Paper to the European Business Association Conference, Glasgow. In: European Business Association Conference, 2010-08-26 - 2010-08-28.

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For much of the twentieth-century, aluminium producers enjoyed a close relationship with national governments, not least as prominent players in military-industrial complexes (for example, Anderson 1951; Smith 1988; Grinberg and Hachez-Leroy 1997). This paper explores the ideological motivations and political activities of senior figures within Britain’s dominant native aluminium producer for much of the twentieth-century, the British Aluminium Company Ltd. (BACo), drawing on work by the author (Perchard 2007, 2010). As a company self-styled as ‘the Service’, support within BACo for imperial priorities and patrician values was sustained both by commercial imperatives as well as the social and cultural background of many of the directors (until the 1960s), amongst them hereditary landowners, retired senior military officers and latterly senior civil servants. This paper will examine the political activities of directors collectively and individually through their engagement with power elites (Mills 1956). In particular, it will focus upon the areas of imperial defence, and regional development in the Scottish Highlands (where BACo’s main smelters were based), to illustrate how their involvement in political activities and social networks was both self-serving and governed by instinctive values. In so doing it will also comment upon the ‘revolving door’ between public and private spheres. While calling into question the general application of the notion of a ‘gentlemanly capitalist’ order, this paper accords with Larry Butler’s view of imperial mining concerns and the British metropolitan government’s priorities during decolonization that: ‘it may, rather, be more accurate to speak of temporary convergences of interest’ (Butler 2007: 477; Cain and Hopkins 1987).