Tony Leon | 03 December 2014 | Original Publication: Rand Daily Mail
They have mastered the shock tactics that keep them in the limelight
AT FIRST blush these two politicians have absolutely nothing in common.
The one is a sleek, silk-suited former city banker who quaffs a pint and proclaims the virtues of “little England”. Many of his supporters are fuelled by an anti-immigration anger which resonates with fed-up white voters.
The other is rotund, wears red overalls, has had no career outside of politics and wants “our mines back”. He is supported by marginalised poor black voters, many of whom would be delighted to see the back of the whites who “stole our land”.
But at second glance, both Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, and Julius Malema, boss of the Economic Freedom Fighters, have far more in common than either might admit, even though they have never met each other.
Welcome to the world of populist “anti-politics” which has taken centre stage in Britain, across Europe and is now firmly planted on our own shores as well.
It provides the rocket fuel for seething electoral discontent both here and abroad and makes the prediction of future election outcomes a mug’s game. Both parties have also shaken the very foundations of the political establishment.
They have forced the traditional parties to switch tactics and strategies, and sometimes junk entire policies to meet this new challenge to the political order.
I arrived for a recent visit to London the day after Farage’s candidate in Rochester and Strood, Mark Reckless, had won the second by-election in a row for the surging insurgent party.
This was after Prime Minister David Cameron had boasted that his Conservative Party, from which Reckless had defected, would “kick his fat arse out of Westminster”. Well, he certainly didn’t do that.
The Conservatives were saved from complete ignominy only by the Twitter activity of Labour MP Emily Thornberry, the shadow attorney general. She had tweeted a photo, without any adverse comment, of a house in the constituency on by-election day, draped in St George’s flags and with a white panel van in the drive.
In an uncomfortable echo of the Twitter storm here caused by Steve Hofmeyr’s silly comment and the Helen Zille “refugee” tweet, the Labour lady was denounced as a “snob”.
She was all the proof needed that the Labour Party was “out of touch with patriotic working class voters”, and that the one-time champions of the proletariat were led by a “metropolitan elite”.
Just to ensure that this narrative remained dominant, Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, who resembles a dithering geek and goes from one stumble to another like Mr Bean on a bad day, fired her from her post.
The UK Independence Party has the ability now, with Scottish Nationalists and even the limping Liberal Democrats (who managed their worst performance yet in the same by-election, netting less than 1% of the vote) and the Greens to prevent either main party from winning and to require a three- or even four-party coalition to govern after next year’s election.
Back home, the EFF has mastered the tactics of parliamentary shock to such an extent that it has left the ANC flat-footed and caused the DA to change its normal parliamentary procedures to appear more aggressive and nasty.
We have yet to see what impact the EFF’s media dominance has had on electoral outcomes, but the 2016 local government elections will provide some clues and some big dilemmas.
DA leader Zille noted that based on the results of this year’s national election, the ANC is already below 50% in Port Elizabeth and Tshwane and hovers just over that in Johannesburg.
Having already lost heavily in Cape Town, Durban is the only major metropole that remains firmly within the ruling party’s grasp.
Given lower voter turnouts in local elections, it is quite conceivable the ANC could lose out in four of the five largest cities. At least, that’s the theory.
Like in Britain, the moment you chose a coalition partner, the real problems start.
In the UK, the Liberal Democrats were once the party of the protest vote, but also a party of the centre left. But when they formed a coalition with the centre-right Conservatives in 2010, they lost the bulk of their voters, hence their terrible result in Rochester and Strood.
So with whom does the DA form a collation?
In all the hotly contested metros here, the EFF will hold the balance of power between the ANC and DA. Yet how could the party of middle-class propertied interests (the DA) form a local government with a party which has declared war on both this class and its interests (EFF)? For the ANC, the dilemma is just as great. With whom to govern: EFF or DA? And this for the ruling party is, in the phrase of international diplomacy, the “land of lousy options and outcomes”.
Meanwhile, for the insurgents in both the United Kingdom and South Africa, the power of disruption forces opponents onto terrain that is both uncomfortable and unfamiliar.
Welcome to the world of “anti politics”. Its arrival has meant that for the next while, certain outcomes and “politics as usual” are a thing of the past.