Monthly Archives: June 2013

Nelson Mandela – Enemy of the (Worst Kind of) State

Regardless of Mandela’s past activism, his legacy to South Africa speaks for itself.

Nelson Mandela is a unique contemporary political figure insofar as anyone that believes in democracy and equality before the law should admire him irrespective of their political allegiances.

Often his legacy is smeared through the shutting down of discussion about Mandela by dismissing him as nothing more than a terrorist. It should sadden anyone who believes in the equality of people regardless of race that the legacy of Nelson Mandela and the subsequent end of Apartheid is still seen as debatable and even as negative to some.

The definition of a terrorist is always subjective and the word is always used pejoratively.  In South Africa, Mandela alongside communist sympathisers, helped co-found Umkhonto we Sizwe (‘MK’) and became its chairman soon after. The group is infamous for its bombing campaigns against the Apartheid government that consequently also led to the deaths of innocent civilians.

When using ‘terrorist’ by its literal definition, “a person who uses violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims,” the evidence is clear; Mandela did establish an organisation that is guilty of committing acts of terrorism. However it is important to remember that Mandela was imprisoned for life one year after the group’s founding and he was incarcerated throughout the period when the MK committed their most notorious attacks.

It is easy to slur Mandela from ivory towers when devoid of a real understanding of the situation in South Africa. The Apartheid government had taken away all forms of political representation for black people in South Africa and aggressively discriminated against them through legislation. When you leave people without democracy or even the basic of rights then you leave them with no choice but to resort to extreme, non-protest methods to achieve liberation.

Mandela outlined the reasoning behind the formation of the MK: “It was only when all else had failed, when all channels of peaceful protest had been barred to us, that the decision was made to embark on violent forms of political struggle… We did so not because we desired such a course, but solely because the government had left us with no other choice.”

Reducing discussions about Mandela to a dispute of definition is fruitless. It implies a disdain for him that does not objectively view him within the historical context and ignores the rightful cause he stood for. It should speak volumes that someone like Nick Griffin recently described Mandela as a “murdering old terrorist”.

The real enemy of freedom and democracy in this scenario was always the Apartheid South African government that was guilty of state terrorism and its actions are wholly indefensible.

Mandela was an enemy of the worst kind of state and this should never be forgotten. The National Party governments that ruled South Africa throughout the latter half of the 20th century pursued racial segregation enforced by legislation. It actively disenfranchised an entire race of people by creating two classes of citizen and restricted freedoms of all its citizens with the implementation of illiberal policies, influenced by restrictive, socially conservative values. The horrifying repression that Mandela was fighting against should never be ignored.

Mandela’s struggle and the rights he fought for embody the values that we hold dear as the fundamentals of a liberal democracy in the west. Mandela envisioned a South  Africa based upon western democracies; he was not a tainted revolutionary like Castro that wanted to impose a dictatorship or like Che Guevara who was a racist homophobe. He held views that are constants across the political spectrum in liberal democracies and he should be applauded for his efforts to change South Africa.

Another charge against Mandela points to the economic decline and relative instability in South Africa since the fall of apartheid. Mandela liberated an entire race of people from a vulgarly constructed, over powerful state and laid the foundations of democracy in the country. To imply the world would have been a better place without Mandela suggests that what he fought for is wrong. What has happened since he stepped back from politics is irrelevant to his legacy and it is lazy to blame him for the failings of his successors.

With his condition worsening it is likely that Nelson Mandela will pass away soon. He should, however, be remembered for his achievements in bringing freedom and democracy to South Africa. The world could do with more individuals like Mandela that are able to unite people from across the political spectrum.

Although a huge cliché, the phrase “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” could not be truer when applied to Nelson Mandela and I know which man I would rather be.

@harry_fraser

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Cameron’s modernisation of the Conservative Party needs completing, not retrenching

David Cameron should remember the principles that got him in to Number 10 in response to the growing discontent from the Right.

In 2005 shortly after becoming party leader, he declared that he would not be a ‘prisoner of an ideological past’, and in the run up to the 2010 election defined himself as a ‘one nation, relatively liberal Conservative’. To stand the best chance of achieving a Conservative majority at the next general election, Mr. Cameron must reaffirm these testimonies and broaden his appeal further rather than turn his back on modernisation.

Recently there has been a marked growth in discontent towards the Prime Minister, and most notable is the grievances from the Right rather than the Left. The rise of UKIP and their populist message has frustrated the established political parties and has prompted calls for the Conservatives to assert more ‘traditional’ conservative values and reflect this with policies of that nature. A debate regarding the Party’s future is becoming more evident, a battle between ‘Swivel Eyed Loons and The Cameroons’, if you will.

In response to the growth of electoral support for UKIP the Tories’ right-wing, anti-Cameron sentiment has currently culminated with the ‘Alternative Queen’s Speech’, a number of proposals from various backbench MPs that they describe as a “genuine attempt” to show what policies a future Conservative government could deliver. Most notable of the 42 bills proposed were calls for a referendum on the Same Sex Marriage bill, abolishing the Department of Energy and Climate Change, renaming the late August Bank Holiday Margaret Thatcher Day and reintroducing National Service. All of these policies you wouldn’t be surprised to find between the covers of a would-be UKIP manifesto.

Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin identify that UKIP’s recent converts are much more likely to be low-income, financially insecure, and working class. The party is widely seen as to the right of the Conservatives – but that is not how UKIP voters view themselves. Whereas 60% of Tory voters place themselves to the right-of-centre, the figure for UKIP supporters is only 46%. Also interestingly 25% of Tories say they are in the centre, or even left-of-centre, the figure for UKIP voters is higher at 36%. (See here). This suggests it is more a protest thought process behind voting for UKIP rather than being ideologically drawn to the party.

Whilst it has enjoyed some gains recently this appears to be more of a blip than what is set to be a long-term trend. UKIP’s time in the limelight has led to just as much ridicule as acclaim and their support has already begun to dwindle.

Come 2015 the electorate will not be voting in protest as many did so in the May local elections, they will be voting for the party they believe is most competent at running the country. UKIP’s populist pick n’ mix manifesto will come under greater scrutiny between now and then, and Farage’s party have a long way to go before mounting any serious challenge of the political establishment.

That does not mean the reasons why people turned to UKIP should be ignored, however; nor should the fact that UKIP have a higher proportion of supporters from lower incomes than the other two parties. Cameron appears to be in a Catch-22 situation: He cannot afford to turn to the socially conservative right, which left his party in the wilderness for 13 years, yet he also can’t ignore the fact that increasingly he is seen as out of touch with the views of everyday people. When the public were asked, ‘Do you think that David Cameron understands people like yourself?’, the overwhelming response was a resounding ‘no’.

There is thus a belief that to restore Conservative fortunes and appeal to those that have jilted us for UKIP means reverting to more socially conservative, right-wing policies evident within the ‘Alternative Queen’s Speech’. The zealous ideological pursuit of social conservatism conflicts with the notion that the Party is the party of pragmatism. Cameron’s modernisation of the Party has been more beneficial than damaging; we have seen a 100% rise in support from younger people since he became leader and it would be wise not to stifle trends such as these. Instead of pandering to divisive politics of the past, Cameron should stand firm by his One Nation principles that he committed himself to pre-2010 in order to offer real benefits to working people.

“One Nation Conservatism” is the idea that the country is strongest and most stable when united and when social antagonisms are kept under control with relatively centrist, pragmatic politics. The debates of the 2015 election will be centred on the economy and facing the realities of government has meant that the pursuit of Thatcherite economics has replaced the compassionate conservatism Cameron promoted before 2010.

The electorate are not screaming en-masse for more Thatcherite economics in light of hard economic times. In 2009 when launching The Big Society, Cameron warned of the dangers regarding a “simplistic retrenchment of the state which assumes that better alternatives to state action will just spring to life.” As the economy shows signs of recovery Cameron should spend the next two years reassuring the public the Conservatives are not ‘enemies of the state’ but are the real One Nation Party that can represent all.

Our problem is not that the Conservatives aren’t ‘right-wing’ enough, it’s that people still don’t believe they care. David Skelton provides a useful conclusion. He notes how Cameron has rescued his party from the scrapheap once, but his modernisation is still a job half done. The move away from divisive social policies of the past is half of Conservative modernisation, but until the party does more to connect with ordinary working people, Cameron’s mission will remain unfinished business.

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