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“The British invented racism,” said the UK’s first “black female” MP. “Britain…almost invented racism,” said the US’ first “black male” ambassador to the UN. If by “racism” we mean “the science of improving stock”, by “giv[ing] to the more suitable races or strains of blood a better chance of prevailing speedily over the less suitable”, then Diane Abbott in April 1988 and Andrew Young in April 1977 were right: the British invented eugenics. More precisely, the University of London invented national eugenics, in the service of the British Empire.

By the end of the 19th century it was clear, at least to the British, which nation had won the 400-year-long European competition to colonise our planet. Indeed, this self-confidence was very soon vindicated, when, following that colonial competition’s catastrophic climax (which we currently celebrate under the euphemism of “Great War”), the British Empire became the most extensive, populous and influential empire the world had ever known.

Yet uneasy lay the head that wore the crown. Birth rates in free-fall; women and workers wanting rights; a majority of men unfit to... see more