Of politics and political culture
Handed down by the original Labour Party?
Half a century ago this country – not yet a nation – was written off as a basket case.
The doomsayers were two eminent personalities: Prof James E. Meade, an economist who won a Nobel Prize for his pioneering research into international trade and played an influential role in British politics and Richard Titmuss, who was Professor of Social Administration at the LSE from 1950 until his death in 1973.
True, Mauritius was then reeling under the devastating onslaught of two cyclones, Alix and Carol, the likes of which had never till then been seen in living memory.
The Labour Party was battling internal apartheid, driven by an oligarchy, and the blackmailing tactics of the British government in the march towards Independence.
The tone had been set at the Labour Party’s foundation by Dr Maurice Cure on 23rd February 1936. He launched the call for the working class to rise and claim their place in the sun.
They listened: on March 12, 1968 the one whose destiny was to be known as the Father of the Nation unfurled the flag of freedom from foreign rule.
The Labour Party had a tryst with the destiny of the people – it set the agenda, and gave the example, of reconciliation, harmony and peace: the conditions, in other words, for the emergence of nationhood.
The dire predictions of the two eminent British Professors and the resource constraints of the monocrop economy notwithstanding, it embarked boldly on the path of development and progress based on the welfare state model.
Health was free; Poor Law assistance was available to the needy; the beginnings of social housing had been laid with the construction of houses for the victims of the cyclones.
The University of Mauritius began to take shape in the wake of Prof Colin Leys’ report; the SSR National Hospital opened in 1969, in spite of the criticisms and cynicism of several stakeholders; education became free from the primary to the tertiary levels, and several State Secondary Schools were constructed.
The Lome Convention was successfully championed. It triggered the sugar boom of the 1970s, which in turn led to the flourishing of our tourism sector – acknowledged worldwide as a success story.
Others, then, were busy paralyzing the port through wildcat strikes. Compare this with the vision that resulted in the creation of the Export Processing Zone by roping in the best brains of this country.
Free education, free health, assistance to the needy, widening of the economic base, creation of opportunities to meet the aspirations of all sections of the population: these constitute, to this day, the basis of the welfare state.
Although the sustainability of this model is increasingly being called into question, there is no doubt that it is only some variant of it allied with the open economy model minus its excesses that can ensure the general welfare of the people at large and the world’s sane growth and prosperity.
77 years on, where is the ideological fire that the nascent Labour Party stoked? Where are and who are the genuine Labourites? Or are we condemned to have but pale shadows of the former stalwarts?
What those who have been witness to the days of glory remember is a defining culture of high-level discussions and interventions in various forums, starting with the one at Guy Rozemont Square. Perhaps it is time for an in-depth reflection on the how and why of the then Labour Party so as to draw lessons and put them into practice. But who? – is the big question. And there is only one answer.
* Published in print edition on 5 July 2013