Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago
By J.N. Roy
People are everywhere asking whether the resignation of Sir Anthony Eden will bring any change in the constitutional position of Mauritius. The answer is yes and no.
The same old guard has come to power. So that in the ideological concept it should make no difference. If there is going to be any change, it is in the home and foreign policy. Peter Thorneycroft and Richard Butler are to grease the financial and home policies. In his own right and using his American parentage, Harold Macmillan is going to make a trans-Atlantic rapprochement. But the fact that Lennox-Boyd who was tipped for promotion has been preserved at the Colonial Office is a clear indication of no change of policy in the colonial line.
Lennox-Boyd appears to feel that his perambulations have given him much experience and it should not be thrown overboard in saddling a new man to start over again. Moreover the Secretary of State is the middle section of Conservatives and he is conscious of the importance of colonial evolution at this stage. While the Labourites consider the grant of independence to India to be the brightest feather in their cap, the Tories are persuaded that India was a phenomenal blunder and it should not be repeated.
The British colonial policy is today an adjunct of the Foreign Office and relations with the rest of the world is becoming an important factor in the grant of colonial autonomy. Colonial questions are not decided on their merits but on the basis of international relations. We do not forget that even the Foreign Secretary Selwyn Lloyd had something to say regarding the withdrawal of British forces from Cyprus.
It should not be forgotten that the African region is the cynosure of the imperialist world after it has had to withdraw from Asia. In a country like Ghana (Gold Coast) the problems were fairly straight-forward and the Nkruma government had a strong backing. Therefore it went smoothly. In other African colonies, in Nigeria, Rhodesia, Tanganika, Kenya and Mauritius the Colonial Office is trying to work the multi-racial idea into an unprecedented danger not because it is anything real but because it gives them a pretext to hold on for some time more.
This is obviously bankrupt politics. The British cannot derive any earthly benefit. All the Tories are doing is to give a longer lease of life to the Colonial Tories. It is not facing the problem squarely but protecting a class from possible liquidation and collapse. So that as far as the position goes, Lennox-Boyd is still wedded to his fad of Proportional Representation which they wish to see put into practice somewhere. Therefore our poor colony is being singled out to be used as the sacrificing animal.
But there are two factors which should weigh against any precipitate action. First is the report of Sir Robert Scott who must have told Whitehall about his difficulties to form a ministerial system after he had elaborated it. Secondly, there is the knowledge that Labour as a party is against P.R. and that they would take the first opportunity to scrap it if they climb to power. The Macmillan government, placed as it is on very slender ground, would be rather loath to challenge the Labourites.
The next step of British politics is a terrible tug-of-war in which the Labourities would want to discredit the Government and to expedite the general elections. The pulse of the country is that Conservatism is in a bad way. Despite the professions of Messrs Macmillan and Thorneycroft, the finances of England are passing through a phase of great financial stringency. If the U.S.A. succeeds in snatching all initiative from West Asia, it will be worse for the U.K.
Pitted as it is in a rather tight corner, it would be jejune sagacity for the Macmillan government to try to bear-bait the Gaitskell crowd by making them swallow the new policy of Proportional Representation particularly knowing that the Labourites have a greater proportion of supporters outside Westminster. Will the Tories be foolhardy enough to press the point at this stage? The matter, I imagine, will be allowed to hang on and if the Tory Government is unduly pressed by Fenner Brockway, James Johnson and others, they would stage Act II of the drama started a couple of years ago by calling another delegation to London.
I even hear that the scenes of the second Act are already set. There will be a counterpart of Lord Munster to visit us first. Then he would submit a tendencious report. Secretary of State will be inclined to overemphasise the new report prepared under the promptings of the local Tories. If opposition thickens, then the second delegation will visit London by the end of the leave of Sir Robert Scott. Some competent people even think that by that time things inside and outside England will have moved so fast that Macmillan will be constrained to advise the Queen to issue orders for the general elections.
And it is obvious even to the Tory Gallup vote that the Tories will lose it. Then naturally the pattern will be radically changed. The big questions therefore are the following: Will the Tory Government be strong enough to antagonise Labour at this crucial period of history? Will international and financial complications leave space and time for Harold Macmillan to breathe to indulge in these new experiments of Proportional Representation for Mauritius? Does Whitehall feel the weight of the opposition in Mauritius? Is the opposition ponderous enough or has it been exhibited with sufficient demonstrative force? Should we incur huge expenses for a P.R. election in 1958 when Labour is returning to power latest by 1960?
The position, looked at from both sides, is not as easy as one would be prone to imagine.
Friday 25th January, 1957
* Published in print edition on 20 September 2019