WikiLeaks, Princess Anne and Mauritius

The Princess Royal gets caught up in a political storm in Mauritius.

A strong message of disapproval was delivered yesterday to Princess Anne at the start of her four-day visit to Mauritius.

The princess is visiting the palm-fringed Indian Ocean island to commemorate the landing of the British army forces there 200 years ago, which led to the transfer of sovereignty to the UK from France.

However, in a major breach of diplomatic protocol, the prime minister of Mauritius, Dr Navin Ramgoolam, did not attend either the ceremony at the Bain-Boeuf public beach in the north of the island, or the reception held later at the British high commissioner's residence.

The Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation conspicuously omitted any video footage of the event on both its English or Hindi language news bulletins.

Snubbed

Why the snub? Well, Mauritius is not pleased about the UK's continued refusal to settle the long-standing dispute about the Chagos Archipelago, which was detached from its territory in 1965, in breach of international law before independence in 1968, and now forms the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT).

By contrast, France agreed this year to manage jointly with Mauritius another disputed territory in the Indian Ocean, the island of Tromelin. It only adds to the sense of grievance about the behaviour of the former colonial master.

The frustration felt in Mauritius about the use of Diego Garcia, the largest and southernmost island in the archipelago, by the US military, and the failure by successive British governments to allow the 700 or so surviving Chagos Islanders and their descendants to return to their homeland, despite pre-election promises by the current UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, boiled over at a ceremony to mark the "Special Day for the Commemoration of the Deportation of the Chagos Community" from their homeland at Quay C in Port Louis on 3 November.

Ramgoolam accused the former prime minister Gordon Brown and his foreign secretary, David Miliband, of bad faith for failing to keep a promise, made at the last Commonwealth Summit in Trinidad at the end of last year, to consult his government about the plan to turn the BIOT into the world's largest marine protected area (MPA). Instead, a unilateral announcement about the marine reserve was made by Miliband on 1 April.

"It is an odious act of provocation against Mauritius," declared Ramgoolam, adding that he was delighted that Miliband had lost the recent Labour leadership election.

The Mauritian leader also stated that he regarded the UK's "indifference" towards the suffering of the Chagossian exiles as a "crime against humanity". He said he had listened to the islanders' accounts of how they were forcibly removed from their homeland by the British authorities between 1968 and 1973 so that the US could build its military base, and "you cannot be insensitive".

"There are nuclear submarines and warships that are polluting the sea," said the prime minister. "They want to protect fish and the corals, which have become more important than human beings. They talk about human rights and their own court [the high court and the Court of Appeal] said that they do not even respect human rights. They are hypocrites."

Diplomatic hoo-ha

The Mauritian prime minister's uncharacteristically strong language caused astonishment among foreign diplomats on the island and in some parts of the Westminister village.

Nevertheless, Ramgoolam was right to highlight UK duplicity. In fact, the WikiLeaks disclosure on Chagos released yesterday shows how, at a meeting in May 2009, British Foreign and Commonwealth officials insisted on establishing the marine reserve as "the most effective long-term way to prevent any of the Chagos Islands' former inhabitants and their descendants from resettling in the BIOT".

They calculated that the "environmental lobby is far more powerful than the Chagossians' advocates". And so, pressing the feel-good buttons of environmentalists – Greenpeace at al – by officials at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was deliberately used as a tactic to override the human rights of the Chagos Islanders. Cynical? You bet.

There is a further point. Princess Anne cannot claim that this diplomatic spat has nothing to do with the royal family. After all, it was her mother who signed the order in council detaching the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius, establishing the British Indian Ocean Territory, and another order in 2004, on Jack Straw's watch, banning the Chagos Islanders from returning to their homeland.

Sean Carey is a research fellow at the Centre for Research on Nationalism, Ethnicity and Multiculturalism (CRONEM), Roehampton University.

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The decline of the north's sporting powerhouse

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Now, things are different.

On a drive between Sheffield and Barnsley, I spotted a striking painting of the Kes poster. Billy Casper’s two-fingered salute covered the wall of a once-popular pub that is now boarded up.

It is almost 50 years since the late Barry Hines wrote A Kestrel for a Knave, the novel that inspired Ken Loach’s 1969 film, and it seems that the defiant, us-against-the-world, stick-it-to-the-man Yorkshireness he commemorated still resonates here. Almost two-thirds of the people of south Yorkshire voted to leave the EU, flicking two fingers up at what they saw as a London-based establishment, detached from life beyond the capital.

But whatever happened to Billy the unlikely lad, and the myriad other northern characters who were once the stars of stage and screen? Like the pitheads that dominated Casper’s tightly knit neighbourhood, they have disappeared from the landscape. The rot set in during the 1980s, when industries were destroyed and communities collapsed, a point eloquently made in Melvyn Bragg’s excellent radio series The Matter of the North.

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Yet today, we rarely get to hear the voices of Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham. And the Yorkshire sporting powerhouse is no more – at least, not as we once knew it.

This should be a matter of national concern. The White Rose county is, after all, the home of the world’s oldest registered football club – Sheffield FC, formed in 1857 – and the first English team to win three successive League titles, Huddersfield Town, in the mid-1920s. Hull City are now Yorkshire’s lone representative in the Premier League.

Howard Wilkinson, the manager of Leeds United when they were crowned champions in 1992, the season before the Premier League was founded, lamented the passing of a less money-obsessed era. “My dad worked at Orgreave,” he said, “the scene of Mrs Thatcher’s greatest hour, bless her. You paid for putting an axe through what is a very strong culture of community and joint responsibility.”

The best-known scene in Loach’s film shows a football match in which Mr Sugden, the PE teacher, played by Brian Glover, comically assumes the role of Bobby Charlton. It was played out on the muddy school fields of Barnsley’s run-down Athersley estate. On a visit to his alma mater a few years ago, David Bradley, who played the scrawny 15-year-old Billy, showed me the goalposts that he had swung from as a reluctant goalkeeper. “You can still see the dint in the crossbar,” he said. When I spoke to him recently, Bradley enthused about his lifelong support for Barnsley FC. “But I’ve not been to the ground over the last season and a half,” he said. “I can’t afford it.”

Bradley is not alone. Many long-standing fans have been priced out. Barnsley is only a Championship side, but for their home encounter with Newcastle last October, their fans had to pay £30 for a ticket.

The English game is rooted in the northern, working-class communities that have borne the brunt of austerity over the past six years. The top leagues – like the EU – are perceived to be out of touch and skewed in favour of the moneyed elites.

Bradley, an ardent Remainer, despaired after the Brexit vote. “They did not know what they were doing. But I can understand why. There’s still a lot of neglect, a lot of deprivation in parts of Barnsley. They feel left behind because they have been left behind.”

It is true that there has been a feel-good factor in Yorkshire following the Rio Olympics; if the county were a country, it would have finished 17th in the international medals table. Yet while millions have been invested in “podium-level athletes”, in the team games that are most relevant to the lives of most Yorkshire folk – football, cricket and rugby league – there is a clear division between sport’s elites and its grass roots. While lucrative TV deals have enriched ruling bodies and top clubs, there has been a large decrease in the number of adults playing any sport in the four years since London staged the Games.

According to figures from Sport England, there are now 67,000 fewer people in Yorkshire involved in sport than there were in 2012. In Doncaster, to take a typical post-industrial White Rose town, there has been a 13 per cent drop in participation – compared with a 0.4 per cent decline nationally.

Attendances at rugby league, the region’s “national sport”, are falling. But cricket, in theory, is thriving, with Yorkshire winning the County Championship in 2014 and 2015. Yet Joe Root, the batsman and poster boy for this renaissance, plays far more games for his country than for his county and was rested from Yorkshire’s 2016 title decider against Middlesex.

“Root’s almost not a Yorkshire player nowadays,” said Stuart Rayner, whose book The War of the White Roses chronicles the club’s fortunes between 1968 and 1986. As a fan back then, I frequently watched Geoffrey Boycott and other local stars at Headingley. My favourite was the England bowler Chris Old, a gritty, defiant, unsung anti-hero in the Billy Casper mould.

When Old made his debut, 13 of the 17-strong Yorkshire squad were registered as working-class professionals. Half a century later, three of the five Yorkshiremen selec­ted for the last Ashes series – Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance – were privately educated. “The game of cricket now is played in public schools,” Old told me. “Top players are getting huge amounts of money, but the grass-roots game doesn’t seem to have benefited in any way.”

“In ten years’ time you won’t get a Joe Root,” Rayner said. “If you haven’t seen these top Yorkshire cricketers playing in your backyard and you haven’t got Sky, it will be difficult to get the whole cricket bug. So where is the next generation of Roots going to come from?” Or the next generation of Jessica Ennis-Hills? Three years ago, the Sheffield stadium where she trained and first discovered athletics was closed after cuts to local services.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era