If the Labour Party are still reeling from the political earthquake that was the SNP Glasgow East by-election victory and shuddering to think about the coming General Election in 2010, perhaps they should take a step back in reflection.
One country that goes to the polls next year is Malawi.
In the last Malawi General Election in 2004, electoral voters rolls figures were inflated. Obviously this gave opportunity for the election to be manipulated, but it was charitably dismissed as just a shambles rather than a devious ploy to get elected.
This time round, the Malawi Government has put more money in to this election to try and prevent any such errors.
But there are worrying trends from neighbouring countries that are seen as stifling democracy. Foremost among these is Zimbabwe with its leader Robert Mugabe, whose party activists have been torturing and killing supporters of the opposing party.
Kenya has seen around 1500 people killed in its recent election.
And Malawi is not short of political tensions. Bakili Muluzi, ex-president was arrested after accusations that he was trying to stage a coup on President Bingu wa Mutharika. They both belonged to the same party (the UDF) but Mutharika left to form his own party (DPP).
So it has come as no surprise that the British High Commisioner to Malawi, Sir Richard Wildash, has added his weight to calls that the 2009 election is seen to be fair.
‘Nothing can so thoroughly undermine democracy as bad elections.”
Such calls can be seen as international pressure on Malawi to run its elections properly. As Malawi is a Commonwealth country, Britain’s voice remains important.
But Sir Richard Wildash is leaving his post in January 2009 at the latest.
Scheduled to take over is the ex-First Minister Jack McConnell.
What should normally happen with a changeover is that there would a short handover period. Jack would normally leave for Malawi now or in the autumn (at the latest) for this to take place.
Will it happen this autumn?
Probably not – despite Malawi’s calls that any gap in the High Commisioner role would be unacceptable.
Despite the Westminster all-party Foreign Office Select Committee demanding that Jack McConnell be sent to Malawi soon.
With such a delicate General election taking place in 2009, it is vital that the new High Commissioner is in place when Sir Richard Wildash leaves.
So why the delay? Why has Jack not left or indicated his timetable?
Its obvious that the Labour Party want to delay Jack’s departure as they feel that they won’t be able to win the Motherwell and Wishaw seat; again putting pressure on Gordon Brown and his Labour Government.
Its a clear example of Labour putting its own party interest over that of the UKs and that of Malawi.
If the SNP won the seat, Holyrood parliamentary arithmetic would mean that they would then only need 1 other party’s support to implement its policies.
Although the ex-First Minister’s seat is looked on as rock solid – so was Glasgow East; in fact it was more so. In view of that the SNP would really fancy their chances at another upset.
Motherwell holds special significance for the SNP as it was the area that gave them their first seat to Westminster in 1945, held by Robert McIntyre who was later to lead the party. They would really be up for the challenge.
It may not be just the prospect of another SNP by-election triumph thats holding back Jack McConnell.
Sir Richard Wildash seems to be of the old school of British diplomats, always ready with a handy Latin quote.
In one speech to the Malawis, the number of Latin quotes were flying thick and fast:-
“As Seneca wrote:
“Non scholae sed vitae discimus” – that is, “We do not learn for school, but for life”.
As Horace wrote:
“Aequam memento rebus in arduis servare mentem”; that is, “Remember when life’s path is steep to keep your mind even”.
As Cicero wrote:
“Cura nihil aliud nisi ut valeas”; that is, “Pay attention to nothing except that you do well”. ”
There was many more quotes from Churchill to Bunyan to the French Renaissance essayist Montaigne.
Obviously something that the Malawis have come to expect from the British High Commissioners. A classical education from a public school no doubt, in true British Foreign Office style.
I may be wrong but I doubt Jack as an ex-maths teacher is versed in his Latin. Maybe that is holding him back from going!
Never mind. I’m sure his Malawi tenure will be more secure than that of most Labour Party MPs come next election:
Hodie adsit, cras absit.