SLR’s political lens: Looking ahead to a turbulent 2019 for CR, Trump and May

LONDON — Kicking off the new year with a fresh approach to political punditry with our London-based columnist Simon Lincoln Reader, an obsessive follower of politics in South Africa, the UK and the USA. In this episode, Simon explains how Trump’s Wall was a Democratic idea; unpacks who really runs Corbyn’s Labour Party; and tells us why turbulence will grow ahead of South Africa’s general election  – Alec Hogg

Welcome to our new edition to the BizNews Radio Lineup, SLR’s Political Lens. Well, Simon Lincoln Reader is based in London but he watches the politics in his homeland of SA, also in the UK and in the USA – three areas, which influence our lives nowadays in a far greater way then they ever did in the past. Simon, it’s good to have you on the show and we’re looking forward to having an ongoing and a regular discussion on what’s going on in politics around the world.

Maybe we should kick-off with the USA and Donald Trump. He is the guy who makes the most news headlines. As of today, Thursday 3 January, he’s got a different world that he needs to approach.

He does have a different world and his world, for the last few weeks, is certainly turning into that. He has lost control of ‘The House.’ He has suffered an impasse in the form of a partial shutdown, and I think it’s going to be very interesting to see how the next few weeks pan out, particularly starting today with the reconvening of Congress.

What does that mean, lost control of ‘The House?’

Well, in the [midterm] elections he didn’t get a majority. He retained control of the Senate but the Democrats took control of ‘The House.’

So, when you say, ‘he’ you’re talking about the Republicans, in other words – that’s Trump’s group. So, in the past they had the Senate, ‘the House’ and in the White House, where he sits. That’s not the case anymore?

It ordinarily happens like that, Alec. At midterm elections there is, if you look at the history, a swing and it happened during Obama’s administration but Nancy Pelosi comes into ‘The House’ as Speaker today, in a very powerful position and we know her position on certain aspects of Trump’s policy, such as border security.

What’s that all about? We just hear, being on the outside, about the wall. So, is he physically going to build a big, fat wall between the USA and Mexico?

As John Kelly reluctantly admitted last week, ‘we don’t think it’s a wall.’ We have this image of this razor wire extension encompassing the entire length of the border. It’s probably not going to be that. It’s just not feasible and it won’t receive the support that it needs.

So, Mexicans have been able to get into the USA pretty easily or, in future, it will be less easy for them – is that what this is all about?

He wants to make it less easy. It’s not just Mexicans. It’s Hondurans. It’s Central Latin America – it’s a pretty sordid state of affairs and, quite frankly, it was one of the reasons why he was elected. So, he is stuck in a bit of an awkward position. If he doesn’t emphasise it, he will be accused of reneging on his election promises.

Is this a whole new thing? Has there been talk of a similar border defence mechanism in the past?

It’s always been an issue but if you look back to Bill Clinton and certainly, Barack Obama, they were emphatic at certain points during their administrations, that border control needs to be tightened. That is freely available on the records and on the internet. Both Clinton and Obama were adamant at certain points that there needs to be stricter controls.

So, Trump is just doing it but he might be doing it in a clumsy manner?

A clumsy and hostile manner, which people certainly are in the light of his other indiscretions or alleged indiscretions – they take them as one, so, you see the animosity towards this through that.

So, the USA will be very interesting indeed, Donald Trump versus the Democrats. In the UK though, it’s a lot more confusing.

It is very confusing. I don’t know. I’m not sure if you’ve been following but the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, returned from the Kruger National Park to deal with another border security issue, this time facing the UK, in dinghies that were crossing the Channel – have you been following that?

I have. I think the last count there was something like 200 people who got into these little boats and tried to get over from France and were arrested. We wonder how many got through the border patrols?

The question he’s asking, and it is a legitimate question, is why are people not stopping at the first safe country? Why are they coming via the Channel? It is a legitimate question but there has also been a lot of hostility towards him. He has been, in the last few weeks, perceived as demonstrating some leadership ambitions and I think that could have something to do with it as well.

So, he was holidaying in the Kruger Park. He then had to come back to the UK because some guys from Afghanistan, North Africa – mainly Muslim countries, have been sneaking or trying to sneak into the UK and it’s a little bit of a crisis, I think he’s called it. Is it?

Not in terms of the numbers. If you look at the consequences of the Syrian Civil War and the numbers that entered Europe post that and/or during that – 200 people is completely insignificant. But I think it’s because we’re also in a hugely, highly flammable atmosphere regarding immigration, particularly in the context of Brexit and I think that that has given it this additional emphasis.

You said, the context of Brexit – 29th March is the big day. What’s going to happen then?

Well, I think, Alec, Britain is certainly going to leave the EU in one way or another in 2019. Whether it’s the way that the hardened leavers think it should be done with no deal, or whether it will be last minute concessions from Brussels, secured by Theresa May, is another. Those are the two options that I think are probably the most explanatory on exactly what mechanism Britain withdraws upon.

What about this second referendum? I see there was commentary in the last few days that 75% of Labour Party MPs are in favour of having a second referendum. Whereas, their leader is not.

Yes, this was an interesting point. I’ve always seen Jeremy Corbyn as a very discreet, but no less hard leaver. He doesn’t want anything to do with the EU because if in the event that he becomes Prime Minister, they will intervene on many of his reforms that he wishes to apply to the British Government. That puts him at odds with this part in this huge group in his party that do want a second referendum. But I think, Alec, we’ve got to go back a bit here. Is it really a second referendum or is it an elite referendum? Look at the people that are involved in lobbying for it – are they really concerned with the welfare of the man in the street? Are they really concerned that this country will be poorer or that they will be less exposed to their current, comfortable arrangements? I think that we’ve got to think very carefully as to what this people’s’ vote is actually all about. It’s headed, (don’t forget) by Roland Rudd, who is the brother of Amber Rudd, and there are all sorts of little covey relationships within it. I’m very sceptical of this leavers vote, to be honest.

What happens if they have a second vote and again you get the same result?

Well, that’s the treat, isn’t it and quite frankly, there is quite a substantial amount of evidence to suggest that that will be the case. People haven’t really haven’t changed their attitudes and I think, Alec, you know that in London – we live in this little bubble, and it applies to Westminster. They don’t really understand what is going on outside, especially in the North. For them to come back and say, ‘oh, we think we’ve got ample numbers now.’ That a certain amount of people who voted to leave have died, and all sorts of other interesting components. I still don’t think that Britain would vote to remain the next time.

What about the state of the two political parties? Theresa May has always been painted in the media as weak, as indecisive, as not having her party under control and certainly the fact that she couldn’t get her plan through, well, not yet anyway – suggests that that’s a possibility. Let’s start there, with the Conservatives.

Nine years ago the Conservative Party was like the adult that arrived at a 15-year old’s disco and started dancing wildly around it. It was entertainment at the time because I think it was a little bit amusing. But nine-years later it’s the adult wants to smoke dagga too. Now he wants to feel ‘I’m open minded,’ remonstrate with the DJ for not playing enough Caribbean music. They have veered significantly off-piece and you see it in Parliament in the extent of the divisions and I’m afraid it is going to result in some form of punishment. Whether it is a general election or whether it is Theresa May leaving 10 Downing Street in 2000. I think those are the two options. There is still a case for a general election and I’m afraid if a general election was held, you’d probably find that Jeremy Corbyn would win.

What about his party because they’ve got some pretty off-the-wall — certainly from free enterprise or a promoter of free enterprises perspectives — some pretty off-the-wall ideas?

Yes, I’ve always suspected that it’s not Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour as much as it is the shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell’s Labour. He’s the real danger here because he’s got the fatal economic ideas and he is supported by people who genuinely admire what is going on in countries like Venezuela, and what has happened in countries like Cuba, and that is absolutely a huge worry. Now, if you look at the City of London, you’ll see that money is already disappearing just because there is a threat that Labour under John McDonnell will win a general election, if it’s held.

Well, I’m surprised that anybody could be praising what is going on in Venezuela right now, where people are starving and so on, but I guess there’s no accounting for all tastes.

No, absolutely. Look, at Jeremy Corbyn’s grassroots movement that propelled him into the leader position in 2015. If you look at Momentum and the key figures that are involved in Momentum and you look at their Twitter feeds and the essays that they’ve produced – you’ll see their support for Venezuela and also, something that we haven’t mentioned about the Labour Party, is that there is this terrible element within it that is occupied by this antisemitic, anti-Israel sentiment that has been incredibly damaging. Not just for the Labour Party but I think to Britain, the community as a whole in the last year.

Israel is becoming a bit of a flashpoint. I was having a look at the detail on the Bolsonaro Inauguration in Brazil last week, the new right-wing President there and it’s the first visit to Brazil by Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin in… Well, by any president from Israel in generations, they also want to move, the Brazilians, their embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in the same way as the Americans have. Can we just dwell on that briefly? Why is it such a big deal, the movement of the embassy?

I think, firstly, until now, Alec, the embassy has been in Tel Aviv, which is seen to be placating the concerns of the Palestinians who have claim to Jerusalem. By the presence of this important institution in a place they contest, they feel that sides were being taken and that there is no longer an impartial arbitration of this hostility and it is now basically, the world’s powers are on Israel’s side and Palestine can go hang.

Now, interestingly, as we move onto SA, which recently has actually announced that it’s going to close its embassy in Israel and downgrade it just to a representative office. So, I suppose that’s, if you like, you’ve got Brazil and the USA who are on the right. You’ll have maybe the UK, which would have its embassy in Tel Aviv in the middle, and SA, which is closing it down and moving even more towards the Palestinian’s side. Am I reading it?

Yes, that’s exactly right. SA is a huge supporter of the BDS campaign, whether they say it in public or not, and I’m talking about the ANC and certainly the EFF, and other more radical fringes. It’s a very touchy subject. Who is right and who is wrong? SA has got into trouble before. If you recall, I think there was an Ambassador who had attended meetings with Israeli officials that were not sanctioned or not approved by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Corp. That got him into trouble. That happened, I think, last year if I’m not mistaken. There has always been hostility around SA’s relationship post-liberation relationship with Israel.

It is something that much more attention is, or one would presume would be paid to, given that Cyril Ramaphosa is coming to the West and saying he needs $100bn to get the economic started again?

Yes, as if he didn’t have enough problems, especially in the like if you have to go to America – it’s going to be a very difficult ask but how do you bend bridges like that? Cyril Ramaphosa is probably the only official I can think of in the ANC Government capable of that level of negotiation with a country like Israel, with a country like America. I don’t think anyone else can do it but it remains to be seen how and what the future going forward between these two countries. Remember, SA has a significant Jewish community so, I think all eyes will be on how he manages this and the fallout from closing the embassy.

And a significant radical Muslim, and growing radical Muslim community as well, but I guess radicalism is the name of the game as SA gears up for its own election.

Yes, very much so. Something I noticed on this Clifton issue was that the first respondents to this issue of people being asked to leave the beach was an outfit called the ‘Black Peoples’ National Crisis Committee.’ You hear a name like that and you think that this must be something that Desmond Tutu must be involved in or someone like Mmusi Maimane, respectable, but if you read a bit more than the reports that News24 have generated, you’ll actually see that it’s the ‘Black-First, Land-First, Gupta sponsored militia’ who got to the scene before anyone else. Subsequently, the issue, which probably could have been contained exploded and resulting in the slaughtering of a sheep and people calling each other’s names, and threatening. You’re right, this is very radical stuff.

How are you reading that? It certainly is scaring, particularly white South Africans, to see this outpouring of radicalism, which can only get worse, we presume, as you head for the election.

Alec, I think we have the benefit of critical analysis and I don’t know if you came across a documentary entitled  ‘Farmlands’ by a Canadian right-wing journalist called Lauren Southern and she has produced, by all appearances, a very frightening look at SA’s farm murders and in this documentary she interviewed one of the spokespeople for Black-First, Land-First, and you could be anywhere in the world and you’ll walk away frightened out of your wits. But the fact is that we know that the Guptas have sponsored Black-First, Land-First so, basically, they’re hired guns. I’m not so sure in the long run how effective these people are. They make threats – sure. They jump around. They arrive at scenes like Clifton 4th Beach – yes, but as a real, political threat – I’m not sure that they have the longevity.

Something that nobody is factoring in or don’t appear to be factoring in right now is the Afrikaner. That is still the majority of the white population in SA. The people who don’t have passports and don’t have the ability to leave elsewhere, and it is a nation that is proud of its fighting prowess. So, you can think back to the Anglo-Boer War where it took on England, the equivalent of the world power and nearly got them to call a truce, if it weren’t for some heinous actions by the British, at the time. So, when you stop and think about that it doesn’t seem to be working into the political discourse. It’s almost being discounted.

This is an interesting point you’ve made. I’ve just finished, which I’m writing a review for, Peter Hain’s book on Nelson Mandela, which it won’t tell you anything you don’t already know but there is a part in that book which emphasises Mandela’s relationship with his warders on Robben Island. You read through – it’s probably one of the most important features for us to remember about his legacy is that he had the leadership, and all of the Rainbow Nation, yes, that’s all fine and stuff but I think that one of the most intelligent things that he ever did was form that relationship with his warders, where he basically humanised them, and ultimately the relationship ended up benefitting him and his fellow prisoners immeasurably. You look at the identity politics that are played by the radical elements in SA and by the EFF, and we know that identity politics just result in division and no one gets what they’re like. But there is an example of what Mandela did and this extraordinary relationship, this profound strategy he employed and look what it produced. Now, is that not the way to think about these hostile things? Is that not the way to go about them because there is a living example, there is a breathing example of the outcome. Whereas, with this other stuff, it just results in more division, doesn’t it?

Yes, another Syria. In fact, many times, engaging with people who were involved in the whole Syrian crisis, they look to SA and suggest that the country had a statesman who enabled it to surpass a similar kind of civil-war type scenario. It’s not something that is taken terribly seriously in SA right now, I guess, because the majority of the population are law abiding. They’re just interested in getting their kids through school, having a better life, etc., but it is something that one needs to caution against.

Absolutely, whether or not the Human Rights Commission start going after people, who violate the code of conduct – that would be helpful but at the moment, it looks like they’re toothless. It looks like all the organisations that are involved in promoting harmonious relationships don’t have the strength that the radicals do.

Perhaps that’s just because we have an election coming up and everybody, particularly the ANC, wants all the votes they can get.

Yes, it’s going to be interesting to see. I have been an opponent of ANC Economic Policy and I’m still an opponent of ANC Economic Policy, and allied to that is the land-reform, which I am certainly no fan of. But I have to say that they’ve actually gone about it to date in the most respectable way that you probably can about something like this, and we wait to see what that effect has. It could have been a whole lot worse. People have had a chance to air their grievances and Alec, quite frankly, maybe being in a position where you can express your historical revulsion and your disposition has helped in some sort of a healing process and whether or not anything comes from that and how it comes from that. I know that there are new schedules for what land can be expropriated, what kind of land rather can be expropriated but it remains to be seen.

SLR’s Political Lens – we’re talking with Simon Lincoln Reader and we’ll be doing this on a regular basis, as we go through the interesting 2019, looking at our major markets in the USA, the UK and in SA.