UK: Online debate among contenders for PM post

Foods for Thought

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

A few days ago, I listened to the online debate among the four contenders in the race for the post of PM – Kemi Badenoch, Liz Truss, Rishi Sunak and Penny Mordaunt. Simply by hearing their opening statements one was able to appreciate the level of debate that was to follow. There were no allusions to personal matters at all. Every candidate spelt out their respective ideas, some focusing on principles, others on actual measures intended such as about cutting taxes, lightening the burden of consumers, as also about their own track record.

They then answered questions that came from a broad constituency, and were as open to questions as they were also able to respond with confidence and provide the clarifications sought.

Rishi Sunak, who had earlier won the highest number of votes (115) among his party members to qualify for this round, followed by Penny Mordaunt with 82, was clearly the one who articulated his programme most ably, in his crisp, almost squeaky clean London accent, a real pleasure to hear.

The Conservative Party has come a long way from the time in 1965 when Enoch Powell pronounced his notorious ‘rivers of blood’ speech. Britain has become more diverse, and more accepting of that diversity, giving opportunity to the second generation of migrants – which Kemi Badenoch and Rishi Sunak represent – to rise too. Welcome to open-mindedness.

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Mind the language

Language is a funny thing but, depending, can also be beautiful – or make us beautiful in our choice of words and the way we articulate them. It can also reflect our nature, our level and degree of crudeness, or sophistication in its positive sense.

Drawing from my profession of surgery, I can cite an example of what I mean. Often the surgeon is faced with a problem which can be treated either by means of operation or without it. But some surgeons are what we call knife-happy: for whatever reason(s) in such situations they always opt for operation. But ‘just because you can do it (the operation) doesn’t mean you have to do it.’

When we are teaching budding surgeons, that’s how we will put it to them, in a direct way. But an illustrious surgeon who was President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, pitched the same message at a higher level, when he said: ‘The feasibility of an operation is not an indication for its performance.’ One can immediately picture what kind of a person we are having to do with.

This also shows that when we speak, context matters. Nothing is said in a void, because our brains function by association, with people, events, memories, which all act as triggers. Currently in the local media there has been an uproar about a proverb (or sirandane) in Creole cited by Member of Parliament Hon Joanna Bérenger in a Facebook post as a comment on Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth shown performing a puja during Shravan Maas.

This was surely inappropriate, because it shows disrespect for another culture. After all, not everybody – that includes me – is familiar with that Creole expression, and there are as many and as varied in Hindi and Bhojpuri as well, which I doubt the MP would know about. Further, as was made clear later, that proverb means being a hypocrite, and its use had therefore a political connotation since both the MP and the PM who was targeted are politicians.

The appropriate forum, therefore, for the MP to show her disapproval is the Parliament, where it would probably have been unparliamentarily to fling those words, and so too hypocrite I would think. In which case perhaps ‘you don’t practise what you preach’ could have been a substitute, and to which the intended adversary in fairness would have sought a right of reply.

A constant appeal regarding our politics over the past several years is the induction of new, younger blood. And when we of the older generations saw some of the new faces surfacing, up went our hopes for a fresh air in our political atmosphere. We have been disappointed a few times already, and this is the latest episode.

No wonder we have nostalgia forletanlongtemps. Thus, many years ago in reply to an attack on his person (rather than his ideas) by his opposite in the Parliament in the choicest langue de Molière, former Minister of Culture MoteeRamdassfrom the same MMMas MP Joanna Bérenger, ended his speech by citing a French poet: ‘La bave du crapaudpeut-ellesalir la blancheur du lys?’

* * *

Why not India?

On the contrary, here we seem stuck in the same atavistic mode that caused so much of bad blood and divisiveness during the struggle for independence, when India and Hindu-bashing became almost the norm. But good sense eventually prevailed and we were able to overcome our base instincts and behave as Mauritian citizens. And we have opened up to cooperation with both traditional and new partners in the building of the nation.

That is why perhaps to the question in Parliament put by MP Reza Uteem, about why the Security Adviser to the PMO should be an Indian, the PM’s response was why not India? Let us not go back to those days of India-bashing at a time when we need all the expertise and the help that we can source to complement local competencies. This will not serve us any good.

Former Minister Dharam Gokhool has put things in a more realistic perspective in his interview to this paper last week:

‘The Opposition forces cannot take the risk of having to deal with an India-bashing campaign, which could be an unnecessary distraction, and stoke communal sentiments. Both in the short- and long-terms, this will be counterproductive and runs the risks of straining our special ties with India and hurting our long-term strategic interests. It may also impact on our social fabric.’

Lord Palmerston, the British Prime Minister,had this to say about essence of diplomatic relations: “We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.”

If there are issues that need to be dealt with, the diplomatic channels should be resorted to instead of public platforms.’

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 22 July 2022

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