The British Political Parties

Mauritius Times – 60 Years

By B. Ramlallah

 Among the highlights of our tour, I believe that my visits to the headquarters of the Conservative and Labour Parties have been the most rewarding. They have been equally illuminating. At the Conservative and Unionist Central Office, the headquarters of the Tories, we were received by Miss S. A. Walker, Deputy Chief Organiser of the Party. She spoke to us about the policy and organization of her party. Before we departed, she provided us with a pamphlet explaining, in detail, the intricate organization of the Conservative Party. I will share excerpts from it to provide readers with insight into the party’s organization.

Right at the outset, the pamphlet states: “In its constitution and organization, three elements comprise the Conservative Party: (a) the Parliamentary Party in both Houses of Parliament, (b) the Conservative and Unionist Association for each constituency, organized within the National Union, and (c) the Conservative and Unionist Central Office.”

The Parliamentary Party is described as follows: “The Parliamentary Party consists of all Members of Parliament who adhere to the Conservative Whip, thereby signifying their acceptance of the party’s policy as declared by the Leader. The management of the Party in the House of Commons lies with the Chief Whip, appointed by the Party Leader. There is a regular weekly meeting of the Party in the Conservative Members’, chaired by a prominent backbench member. All Conservative Members of Parliament are members of the Central Council of the National Union.”

Regarding constituency organization, I can only reiterate what Peter Ibbotson has already written on the subject. However, I cannot overstate the pivotal role played by the nucleus of the Party in its functioning. Described as follows: “The Conservative and Unionist Central Office serves as the nerve center of the party’s organization. It is tasked by the Party Leader with ensuring the efficiency of the organization nationwide, disseminating the party’s policy, and conveying constituency sentiments to the Leader. It operates in close collaboration with the National Union, maintaining a constant exchange of information. The role of the Central Office is to guide, inspire, and coordinate the party’s work across the country, to advise and support constituency associations and area councils, and to provide centralized services.”

When asked about the date of the general election, Miss Walker replied that it could be in October or the following year; no one knows for sure because it is the Prime Minister who decides. Responding to a query about the Conservative Party’s position, she stated that the Conservative Party has never been stronger than it is now, and undoubtedly, it will secure victory. However, she emphasized that elections are entirely in the hands of the electorate, who ultimately decide.

At Transport House, we were welcomed by Mr James Johnson, MP, and a young Pakistani who is part of the Labour Party staff.

Mr J. Johnson is a familiar figure to Mauritians. He is known for his keen interest in Mauritius; his knowledge of Mauritian affairs is arguably unrivaled by any other MP, except perhaps Mr Fenner Brockway, who visited us in 1955. The choice of Mr Johnson by the COl to speak to Mauritian journalists about the British Labour Party was evidently a wise one.

Mr Johnson mentioned that in its early days, the Labour Party drew its strength primarily from the trade union movement when it was primarily a concern of the working class. However, with the rapid spread of education within the working classes, the entire composition of the Labour Party underwent a transformation. The LP is no longer solely a party of manual workers.

It now includes men and women who have received high-quality secondary and university education. The children of former manual workers now have good jobs, better pay, improved homes, and excellent social amenities. Due to these advancements, there are concerns that the current generation might lack the dynamism of the early pioneers of the Labour movement. Discussing nationalization, Mr Johnson stated that the Labour Party advocates for the public ownership of essential industries, resulting in approximately 25 percent of the nation’s economy being nationalized. This has generally been successful. Instead of outright nationalization, Labour now plans to acquire shares to control the activities of large corporations and ensure they operate in the national interest.

“It is unjust to claim that nationalization has been unsuccessful and a financial burden,” Mr Johnson added; on the contrary, it has been financially viable. For instance, since nationalization, the railways have provided dividends of £450 million at 3 percent, and coal £150 million at 3 percent to their former shareholders.

Responding to whether nationalization is necessary, Mr Johnson argued that any progressive government must have the ability to set targets and plan ahead. A progressive government should forecast its requirements for essential goods and materials necessary for the welfare of its citizens and compel the industry to provide them. This is easier when essential goods and manufacturing concerns are government-owned. Mr Johnson emphasized that even the Conservatives acknowledge the need for public ownership of certain critical sectors of the economy. He mentioned that 45 percent of the steel industry is publicly owned, British Petroleum has 51 percent government shares, and B.O.A.C. and B.E.A., nationalized by Labour, are still government-operated.

To Mr Johnson, the Labour Party is not doctrinaire. It does not nationalize for the sake of nationalization. Its policy of nationalization is in the interest of the nation. The current government has provided a £30 million subsidy to the textile industry to help it withstand the intense competition from overseas manufacturers. This is a form of indirect nationalization.

The prospects for a Labour victory are promising, according to Mr Johnson; he is confident that Labour will emerge victorious. He explained that there were approximately half a million swing voters in the last general election, and 2 percent of the 25 million voters abstained. They may have supported Labour. Additionally, there were half a million Labour supporters who did not vote at all due to a split in the Party. His argument is that the British electorate does not readily switch sides. If someone supports Labour, they tend to remain loyal, and the same applies to Conservative supporters. As there are more Labour supporters among the electorate, it is highly likely that Labour will succeed this time.

Another significant factor indicating Labour’s victory, Mr Johnson mentioned, is the peculiar characteristic of the British electorate to prevent any party from staying in power for extended periods. An examination of party governance demonstrates that the pendulum never remains on one side for long. The British electorate prefers to keep political parties on their toes.

Mr Johnson noted that Labour took office in 1946 during very challenging times. It was the post-war period, a time of reconstruction and scarcity. There was a shortage of raw materials, rationing, and other constraints, making things quite difficult for Labour. Nevertheless, Labour performed admirably. However, now that there is an abundance of raw materials and a strong market for British goods, Labour can certainly achieve much more.

6th Year – No 266
Friday 18th September 1959

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 29 March 2024


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