Justice Malala: Political swing on the way

JusticeMalalaYou could not find a hotel room in central Berlin, Germany, on June 3 2000, even if you were one of the original three wise men of the East.

The place was awash with journalists, diplomats, bureaucrats, activists and the attendant blue lights and bodyguards.

We were all there to listen to South Africa’s then-president, Thabo Mbeki, and 13 other left-leaning world leaders as they tried to flesh out their idea of a “Third Way” in world affairs.

They were young and included Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President Bill Clinton.

They had dreams of a more humane, more generous, more open, more compassionate and collaborative world in which the poor and marginalised had a place at the top table.

Mbeki spoke of shared values and the need to put those values into practice.

“There’s a value system which is common among us. There are certain things that we’re pursuing that need to be achieved,” he said.

“There’s a globalisation process taking place and therefore the international system of cooperation is one of the things that must be addressed during this process of networking.”

The leaders spoke about coming up with a blueprint for promotion of “civil rights, employment and prosperity and equal opportunity for women and men” across the globe.

A few months later, Clinton was replaced by George W Bush, who promptly took the world to war.

The Tories later kicked out the Labour Party in the UK.

Sixteen years after that meeting, left-leaning parties across the globe are being obliterated. The shock success of Donald Trump in the US presidential election last week is the latest of a series of setbacks. It will not be the last. Just four days after his win, one of the first European leaders to get an audience with Trump was Lionel Farage, the UK Independence Party leader who fronted the charge for Brexit in the UK earlier this year.

Farage has publicly said in television interviews that in a country run by his party there would be no law against discrimination on the grounds of race or colour.

Centre-right and far-right parties, as I have written here before after the Brexit vote in the UK, are on the rise on both sides of the Atlantic.

Inspired by the successes of Farage and now Trump, they believe they are on the verge of domination of key European cities and states.

Writing in the Financial Times last week, Wolfgang Munchau said the West was in the grip of the “politics of insurrection”.

That insurrection may hit France next year, with Marine le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front party, on the ascendence.

The New York Times wrote: “And Ms Le Pen is not alone. From the Balkans to the Netherlands, politicians on the far right have greeted the election of Mr Trump with unrestrained delight and as a radical reconfiguring of the political landscape – not just in the US, but in Europe as well.”

Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch far-right Freedom Party, was ecstatic about Trump’s win this week: “Congratulations! A historic victory! A revolution! We will return our country to the Dutch,” he said.

In Germany, Angela Merkel’s centrist SDP is polling at an alarmingly low 20% while far-right groupings are gaining traction.

On December 4, Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of the far-right Freedom Party of Austria, could win the country’s presidency.

Earlier this year. I wrote an EU without the UK may tip the world back to the fascistic, mean, dangerous political waters of the 1930s.

I fear we are still headed there.

The ideals and beliefs that Mbeki, Clinton, Blair and the other leaders who met in Berlin in 2000 propagated are on the back foot.

In their stead is the rise of a mean nationalism, immigrant-bashing and populist leadership. The walls are going up, literally and figuratively. What is to be done? Munchau wrote that the problem of left-leaning parties was that their economic policies were almost indistinguishable from those of their centreright rivals. He said they pursued the same “austerity” policies and echoed the same lines about free trade, open borders and financial liberalisation. He offered a solution that echoed why Julius Malema and his EFF may be striking a chord in some parts here at home.

He said centre-left parties must challenge the establishment consensus on austerity, demand more public sector investment and elect leaders prepared to sink trade deals.

It is interesting to me that here at home the ANC has shifted increasingly to the centre while the left flank is occupied by the EFF.

The “politics of insurrection” are nearing the ANC while a populist Malema does exactly what a Trump has done – only from a left, albeit nationalistic, frame.

If the left-centrists are being pummelled by populists across the globe, who is to say they won’t be pummelled here at home?

Either way, it seems to me that a change is coming.

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