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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Labour's establishment suspects a Momentum conspiracy - they're right

Bernie Sanders-style organisers are determined to rewire the party's machine.  

If you wanted to understand the basic dynamics of this year’s Labour leadership contest, Brighton and Hove District Labour Party is a good microcosm. On Saturday 9 July, a day before Angela Eagle was to announce her leadership bid, hundreds of members flooded into its AGM. Despite the room having a capacity of over 250, the meeting had to be held in three batches, with members forming an orderly queue. The result of the massive turnout was clear in political terms – pro-Corbyn candidates won every position on the local executive committee. 

Many in the room hailed the turnout and the result. But others claimed that some in the crowd had engaged in abuse and harassment.The national party decided that, rather than first investigate individuals, it would suspend Brighton and Hove. Add this to the national ban on local meetings and events during the leadership election, and it is easy to see why Labour seems to have an uneasy relationship with mass politics. To put it a less neutral way, the party machine is in a state of open warfare against Corbyn and his supporters.

Brighton and Hove illustrates how local activists have continued to organise – in an even more innovative and effective way than before. On Thursday 21 July, the week following the CLP’s suspension, the local Momentum group organised a mass meeting. More than 200 people showed up, with the mood defiant and pumped up.  Rather than listen to speeches, the room then became a road test for a new "campaign meetup", a more modestly titled version of the "barnstorms" used by the Bernie Sanders campaign. Activists broke up into small groups to discuss the strategy of the campaign and then even smaller groups to organise action on a very local level. By the end of the night, 20 phonebanking sessions had been planned at a branch level over the following week. 

In the past, organising inside the Labour Party was seen as a slightly cloak and dagger affair. When the Labour Party bureaucracy expelled leftwing activists in past decades, many on went further underground, organising in semi-secrecy. Now, Momentum is doing the exact opposite. 

The emphasis of the Corbyn campaign is on making its strategy, volunteer hubs and events listings as open and accessible as possible. Interactive maps will allow local activists to advertise hundreds of events, and then contact people in their area. When they gather to phonebank in they will be using a custom-built web app which will enable tens of thousands of callers to ring hundreds of thousands of numbers, from wherever they are.

As Momentum has learned to its cost, there is a trade-off between a campaign’s openness and its ability to stage manage events. But in the new politics of the Labour party, in which both the numbers of interested people and the capacity to connect with them directly are increasing exponentially, there is simply no contest. In order to win the next general election, Labour will have to master these tactics on a much bigger scale. The leadership election is the road test. 

Even many moderates seem to accept that the days of simply triangulating towards the centre and getting cozy with the Murdoch press are over. Labour needs to reach people and communities directly with an ambitious digital strategy and an army of self-organising activists. It is this kind of mass politics that delivered a "no" vote in Greece’s referendum on the terms of the Eurozone bailout last summer – defying pretty much the whole of the media, business and political establishment. 

The problem for Corbyn's challenger, Owen Smith, is that many of his backers have an open problem with this type of mass politics. Rather than investigate allegations of abuse, they have supported the suspension of CLPs. Rather than seeing the heightened emotions that come with mass mobilisations as side-effects which needs to be controlled, they have sought to joins unconnected acts of harassment, in order to smear Jeremy Corbyn. The MP Ben Bradshaw has even seemed to accuse Momentum of organising a conspiracy to physically attack Labour MPs.

The real conspiracy is much bigger than that. Hundreds of thousands of people are arriving, enthusiastic and determined, into the Labour party. These people, and their ability to convince the communities of which they are a part, threaten Britain’s political equilibrium, both the Conservatives and the Labour establishment. When the greatest hope for Labour becomes your greatest nightmare, you have good call to feel alarmed.