Thursday, 22 January 2015

An Alternative Utopia

It’s been almost three weeks since I returned to Britain after spending 34 dazzling days on the tropical island of Mauritius.  Perhaps the most satisfying element of the holiday revolved around the fact that even after ten years across twelve visits, I still explored new experiences.  Whether it was catching a bus on Christmas Day, enjoying a party on a Catamaran late into the night or raving in a sugar cane field under a full-moon.

I booked the flight for my adventure in July, so it was something of a treat when I realised that the Mauritian General Election would be taking place during my stay.  I had of course experienced my first Mauritian Election during my 2010 visit, but it was something I observed from a distance.  I witnessed some local canvassing in and around the Grand Baie area, but the event largely passed me by.  I was distracted by preparations for my impending birthday party and not even my Politics-addiction would impose upon that.

This time around was a completely different story.  I ensured that I explained to as many friends as possible from the moment I arrived that I was eager to experience how elections were conducted in the land of my father’s birth.  Fortunately for me, a friend of a friend (Kugan Parapen) has been involved in working with a relatively new Political Party called “Rezistans ek Alternativ”.  I was invited to come along and assist in their preparations a couple of days before polling day, an opportunity I seized without a moment’s thought.

As the name suggested, Rezistans were aiming to offer a new and alternative vision for the people of Mauritius.  They were firmly entrenched on the far-left of the political spectrum, so it didn’t take long for me to quickly find myself on the same page as the Party.  Pro-wealth redistribution, anti-communalism, protecting workers rights and measures to combat global-warming: this was a Manifesto that I could fully subscribe to without exception.

Although formed in 2005, this was the first time that their members could stand because candidates were not required to declare their ethnicity.  This was a huge step in the right direction- moving the Republic away from the perils of communalism, the origins of so many problems during the first three decades following Independence.

I was deeply impressed observing this refreshing voice in Mauritian politics.  Not just because they had produced a list of policies which I found myself in full agreement with, but also because they had captured the imagination of younger voters and engaged disenfranchised parts of the electorate across the country.  Everything about them reinforced a notion that they were a breath of fresh air.

The crucial element here was that it represented something new.  Not simply the same personalities rebranded under a sparkly redesigned logo, but a genuine collective of individuals who thought they could offer an alternative way of running Mauritius.  They were not ex-members of MMM, Labour or MSM who had left (or been expelled) for example.  They were a welcome relief in a Republic which had been dominated by two families, the Ramgoolams & the Jugnauths, who had shared power since Independence from Britain in 1968.

Rezistans went on to secure 3.5% of the vote on polling day, a remarkable achievement considering this was the first time they had contested elections nationally.  Kugan himself secured 6.5% in his seat of Quatre Bornes and the organisations most experienced figure achieved over 8% in their constituency.  It is an incredibly solid platform to build upon in years to come, not just in 2019 but in subsequent contests as well.  I had to explain to Kugan and his friends that in Britain a relatively new political faction, the UK Independence Party (UKIP), had taken far longer to make such an impression on a national scale.  Indeed it is only some 22 years after being created that they are on the verge of making an impact at a British General Election, which is scheduled to take place in May 2015.

Aside from the fact that both parties are relatively new, Rezistans and UKIP couldn’t be more different.  UKIP positions itself very much on the hard-right of the political spectrum.  They would screech in horror at the policies offered by Kugan and his colleagues.  Naturally this relates to the idea that in the UK the political debate has for over three decades taken place on the right of the spectrum.  In Mauritius, as I have noted previously, the opposite is true where a traditional culture of political debate on the left exists.

I saw Kugan again around a week after the Mauritian Elections and I explained that I felt inspired by how he and other like-minded individuals had shown such tremendous initiative to work so hard to project their alternative vision of what Mauritius should look like.  Kugan had spent some time living in the UK during a period studying at Warwick University, and I joked that he should consider visiting us again in the UK soon to show us how we too could replicate what they had achieved in Mauritius.  But just how feasible is such a prospect anyway?

Britain has been dominated by two parties for almost a century, albeit not quite the family dynasties that exist in Mauritius.  Nonetheless, they are two very imposing institutions which would initially suggest that what Rezistans did in Mauritius could not possibly be replicated in the UK.

Or could it?

Data from the 2010 British General Election suggests that maybe Britain is crying out for a Kugan or a Rezistans to offer a new direction.  I have written previously about the need for a break from the consensus-style politics which have poisoned the British political landscape since the mid-1980s.  Yet even more alarmingly is the fact that the number of people on the electoral roll register who did not even register a vote in 2010 would significantly outnumber the tallies of every other political group on offer in the UK.  That would include UKIP who stood in the same election.  This is a shocking revelation and shows just how many people are currently disengaged from the political process in Britain.

Kugan and Rezistans showed how offering an alternative message, entrenched in strong left-wing values, can reach out and invigorate sections of the electorate to become involved in the process again.  This was especially true of younger voters.  It’s a proportion of the electorate which poses an enormous problem in the UK, for example: at the last election fewer than 50% of voters under the age of 35 actually voted.  This was part of a national turnout of 65%, and if we analyse the figures for voters between the ages of 18-24, the figures are even more astonishing where the figure falls to below 45%.  Even that was propped-up by male voters because a snapshot of female voters under the age of 24 shows the figure slipping beneath 40%.

It’s unrealistic to suggest that a new Party could be created tomorrow and would have enough time to make an impact at the British General Election in less than 15 weeks’ time.  However it is not so outlandish that a Political Party started soon could make an impact in 2020, in time for another General Election.  Rezistans ek Altenativ offered a brand new vision for Mauritius and came from nowhere to snatch 3.5% of the vote in their debut national poll.  It wasn’t a stroke of fortune and may provide hope for us all.  It can inspire like-minded individuals to come together and work towards offering an alternative direction for Britain, something that resonates with left-wing voters who otherwise feel ostracised.

It might amount to a proposal which inspires many of the near-16 million voters to engage once again.