*By Takura Zhangazha
The surge of the British Labour party in that country’s recent snap general election has passed for abstract conversation on this African side of the globe. Even in a former colony of the British Empire such as Zimbabwe apart from curiosity as to what the fuss was all about after glancing at global news networks, there has been no extended discussion as to what a hung British parliament would mean for its placement in global politics let alone its approach to foreign affairs. The latter which would have a bearing on Zimbabwe’s long standing acrimonious relationship with previous Labour governments and a preference by our own ruling Zanu Pf party for the Conservatives.
But beyond issues to do with potential (and relatively speculative) changes to foreign policy between Zimbabwe (or Africa) if Labour had pipped its Conservative party rival, its equally important to reflect on the Labour party’s campaign as led by its popular leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
And no, this is not stretching it. Not least because what the British elections represented for some of u has been the evident shift from celebrity style politics and campaigning as shown by the phenomenal rise in support for the British Labour party. More importantly, there is an ideological dimension to the result wherein the more social democratic aspects of the Labour Party’s manifesto appeared to resonate with a greater number of voters, especially younger voters.
My own immediate reaction was to compare our local politicians and political actors with the Labour party campaign and its leadership style during the same.
I began with the manifestos and saw that in Zimbabwe’s case none of our major political parties have a people-centered and welfarist manifesto. From the ruling Zanu Pf through to the largest opposition MDC-T and any others that have bothered to write a full manifesto, they have all remained enamoured to neo-liberal propositions.
Their manifestos read more like they seek to impress not the voter but some obscure investment brokering bureaucrat on any of the opposite ends of global financial power (New York or Beijing).
Where they appear, as in the case of the ruling party with its current spate of provincial youth rallies, to be popular, its not on the basis of broad democratic values and appeal. Instead it is on the basis of patronage, patriarchy and an intention to quite literally utilise state resources in order to get votes.
Or where it’s the opposition and its recent rallies, it is to make public shows of support and then excoriate young people for not voting and not seeking to fully understand the reasons why they have limited confidence in political processes. And some of these same reasons lie squarely at the feet of the opposition’s perpetual ineptitude and inability to embrace internal party democracy. AS well as its single message mantra of ‘Mugabe must go’.
Any ruling party or opposition party activists will obviously rush to defend their own campaign methods as we trudge along to next year’s harmonised election. They will argue about different contexts/realities between the UK and Zimbabwe. But that will be to miss the point.
While no one can import wholesale the strategies and tactics of the Labour party in their last campaign, we can certainly draw key lessons from it. And I will outline just three key ones.
The first being that in electoral contests, people centred ideas really do matter. Not just by way of populism and purchased media but by way of democratic values and re-establishing a state that is ‘for the many, not the few’. While the global north is beginning to counter neo-liberalism and austerity through for example supporting Labour in the UK or Podemos in Spain.
In the global south and in Africa in particular we are regrettably still falling victim to the fallacies of free market economic policies. Especially where it comes disguised in radical nationalism such as that currently utilised by Zanu PF to, in reality, implement state-capitalism through privatising the national capital.
The second key lesson is that ‘generational praxis’ matters when articulating progressive social democratic policies. The young, the middle aged and the mature can share the same progressive, people centered political values and work together to ensure change for the better occurs. Ditto Corbyn being backed by a mixed demographic buoyed by young people’s new energy for politics.
The third lesson to be drawn from the energetic turnout for the UK’s Labour party is that context and direct interaction with the public still matters in political action. This includes relating to the very real concerns of people such as those of public services, unemployment and pensions as they apply to lived realties and seek solutions that are most readily understood.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)