The Cult of Personality and P.R.

Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago

By Peter Ibbotson

A group of young Conservatives in Britain have recently published a booklet on Colonial Affairs, Race and Power. It shows, according to the Conservative Party’s monthly review ‘Commonwealth and Colonial Affairs’, “a remarkable grasp of that most intractable of colonial problems, namely how different communities are to live together without fear of each other… Malays and Chinese have got to find an answer to it in Malaya; so have communities of African and Indian descent in British Guiana; and although the Gold Coast is an African state, the people of the south, Ashanti, and the Northern Territories must find a means of living together in harmony”.

The political regime in any country can be oriented towards living together without fear of each other. Political parties which avoid communalism can help in developing national, as opposed to racial, consciousness. In some of the territories listed in the Conservative booklet, there are political parties dedicated to developing national independence without any racist tinge — the People’s Action Party in Malaya, for example, and the People’s Progressive Party in British Guiana. Both are multi-racial parties whose aim is to get rid of communalism in their respective countries. And the Convention People’s Party of the Gold Coast draws support from people of various races.

Wherever multi-racial political parties exist, they are nearly always parties drawing support from the People; but are opposed by the reactionaries. In the Gold Coast, the multi-racial C.P.P. is progressive, democratic, socialist; its opponents are the traditionalist, feudal chiefs of whom the late Sir nana Ofori Atta was a supreme example as an agent of imperialism who was prepared to sacrifice his country for petty personal advancement. (As the poet Browning put it “Just for a handful of silver he left us, just Just for a riband to stick in his coat”.) And in British Guiana, the imperialists lost no time in discrediting Cheddi Jagan’s P.P.P. when it won the general election in 1953.

Despite the words of the group of Conservatives who have written this book let, the Party as a whole is against the development of popular movements in the colonial territories. Wherever possible, and in many ways, popular expression of opinion is damped down. I have referred to the discrediting of the P.P.P. In Malaya and Singapore, there is repressive legislation under emergency powers which have elevated the Governor of Cyprus to a dictator. In the Gold Coast, the new constitution transforming it into the independent self-governing dominion of Ghana, to come into effect on March 6, the feelings and opinions of the opposition parties, the feudalist chiefs and their toadies of the Ashanti and the north, have been tenderly respected. (And still the opposition is asking for more concessions). In the Radcliffe proposals for a new constitution for Cyprus, eventful partition of the island into Greek and Turkish sectors is foreshadowed: the views and wishes of the Turkish minority being, it appears, of more importance than the prosperity of the whole island. As I have shown in Advance, deference to the extremist minority in the north of Ireland has led there to partition and oppression and an unbalanced economy in both north and south.

And now in Mauritius, we have seen signs of the same phenomenon. In the 1956 constitutional proposals, Proportional Representation (PR) is suggested; to protect minority interests against an imaginary oppressor. (The real oppressor in all colonies is the imperialist power). Despite the fine sentiments of the group responsible for Race and Power, the Conservative Party as a whole favours the proposals, in the 1956 constitutional document, for proportional representation; but the Party is none the less against P.R. in general elections in Britain. Illogical? yes; but expedient. In putting forward P.R. in Mauritius but denying P.R. in Britain, the Conservative Party is lacking in political morality.

We heard much when Mr Khrushchev made his notorious anti-Stalin speech, last year, of the ‘cult of personality’. This cult is the negation of democratic party government. In the colonies, popular expression of opinion tends, when first it emerges, to reflect personalities rather than parties. Later comes the stage when parties develop out of the previous agglomeration of personalities. Examples are Jamaica and Trinidad. Before the 1956 general elections in Trinidad, the Legislative Council had been dominated by personalities of whom Mr Gomes was the most outstanding. But the 1956 elections saw party government introduced, when Eric Williams’ People’s National Party gained a victory.

In Jamaica, the personality of Bustamente dominated politics for ten years; but now his power has waned and party government (Mr Manley’s People’s National Party) has emerged. In Northern Rhodesia, Welensky rode to power on his so-called Labour Party but when he had achieved his end, he dissolved it. Personality rule still dominates politics there; the popularly supported African National Congress has to work against great odds in the whole of east and central Africa.

Party government, if the parties are democratic, is the negation of the cult of personality. In England, when we vote at an election, parliamentary or municipal, we vote for parties, not for personalities. When we vote at a municipal election, we may have four votes and four of our party’s candidates to vote for. In that case we give one vote each to all our party’s men (or women). So at a municipal election, often the Labour candidates in one ward poll almost identical totals of votes.

The same applies in Legislative Council elections in Mauritius, of course; and in municipal elections. The voting figures at the recent elections in Curepipe, etc., will bear me out. So will the voting figures at the 1953 general election. But if P.R. came about, electors would not vote by putting X against all four or six candidates of their choice; they would have to number these candidates 1,2,3,4 and so on and in so doing would have to consider the personalities of the various candidates. Or, a popular candidate of one party might attract a huge surplus of votes (first preferences), so that he had a lot of second preferences to be distributed among the other candidates of his party, who would thus benefit from the personality of the first. (The P.R. Society admits this and indeed stresses it in at least one of its pamphlets on voting in the Republic of Ireland).

So we find that P.R. emphasises personality at the expense of party, as indeed Dr Cesare of Malta pointed out some time ago in the Mauritius Times. Since P.R. does thus emphasize personality, and in so doing may contribute largely to the development (and perpetuation) of a cult of personality, is it to be wondered at that among the staunchest supporters of proportional representation in Britain is numbered the Communist Party? (Can you hear me, Monsieur le Baron?)

By denying full expression of the popular will, by encouraging communalism and the cult of personality and by stultifying the healthy growth of political parties, proportional representation stands condemned. And being supported by both Communists and N.M.U., it is very obviously doubly undemocratic.

4th Year – No 134
Friday 1st March 1957

* Published in print edition on 29 November 2019

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