whatever happens Populism 2.0? People like Paul Machattel, Georgia Meloni, Liz Truss and Ron DeSantis were seen as more dangerous than the buffoon Donald Trump or Boris Johnson because they could actually get things done.
Retaining elements from the old-school populist playbook—presenting politics as a clash between “the pure people” and the “corrupt elite”—this latest generation ominously combined the thin, concentrated ideological void of earlier populism with a degree of cold, calculated effectiveness.
Yet, far from any ideological rigor, it seems to have self-destructed. Mashatile is a symbol. His reputation was ruined under the guise of a fool.
As always, the Italian example is instructive. Despite initial signs of effectiveness, Meloni’s government has devolved into post-Berlusconi infighting, its coalition split over everything from Europe to Ukraine, beach club ownership reforms to changes to the legal system. He may continue, but in the absence of an ideological core, it remains to be seen what he achieves beyond the headlines.
Such was the brevity of Les Truss’s government that even remembering her name is a challenge. Its claims of neoliberalism and market fundamentalism were so ill-conceived, so plainly absurd, that they nearly bankrupted the UK. Her moment at 10 Downing Street becomes the epitome of lawlessness and incompetence.
Meanwhile, Ron DeSantis has become conspicuous by his absence. Because of the infighting between the GOP and Trump’s media circus, his once-disguised image of conservative Florida’s efficiency looks outdated and dull.
There is a lesson here for aspiring leaders like Mshatel. First, start with the basics. A “weak-centered” populist-style ideology, as the political scientist Cass Mudd has phrased it, is not enough. While effective in opposition, they become hopelessly opaque when in power, leading to organizational confusion (like Meloni) or the simplest mistakes (like Truss). When in office, ideological rigor is necessary to define what one is and is not.
Secondly, as football visionary Arigo Sacchi once said, “You can’t achieve anything on your own, and if you do, it won’t last long.” Meloni, Truss, and DeSantis are all guilty of setting the mistake advisors. Yes men, fools and their in-laws are not enough to ensure the continuity of any political project. Instead, truly capable and talented champions who could someday pose a realistic threat to power gain are essential in maintaining the intellectual relevance of management. What would Tony Blair be without Gordon Brown or Thatcher without Heseltine? These talents ensure competition within the department, ensuring the organizational solidity that can get things done.
Mashatile and Steenhuisen take notes
Paul Machatel and John Steinhausen should pay attention. The former is tasked with a massive project of organizational rebirth, to arrest the Juggernaut’s demise. He also argued eloquently Johnny SteinbergIt is inaccurate to portray the ANC as a pure and chaste organization that was later corrupted by Jacob Zuma.
It has always been riven by internal conflicts and plagued by perverted agendas. However, it was once effective and had a purpose. She negotiated with the Nats at Codesa and managed to reshape South Africa’s political economy under Gear’s leadership. Now, it can achieve nothing beyond forming new subcommittees, the results of which remain unpublished and unreported.
If Machatel was to attain and retain power, ideological cohesion and Stalin’s commitment to organizational discipline would be key. He also needs the right people around him, as opposed to the current group of ministerial wreckage. Needless to say, these are all crucial elements for ensuring what is surely the ultimate goal of any nascent ANC administration: rent extraction.
For Steenhuisen, the challenges are more profound, if diametrically opposed. He has to build a cohesive alliance from the ground up. It is not enough to be “anti-ANC”. He should look to Hungary for an example of how this strategy can work with opposition movements; Despite appearing close in opinion polls, Fidesz’s United Opposition against Viktor Orbán movement has collapsed in the 2022 elections.
The vote against Orbán never materialized simply because people were wary of trusting the loose coalitions that had left it raison d’être It is simply that they are against something, because they are not sure what they might be up to if they were in power. There is a dearth of credibility. Instead, frustrated voters tend to abstain, ensuring the survival of the incumbent.
Historians are unlikely to mourn this generation of populists. They have achieved, and are likely to achieve, less than their most ardent critics ever expected. However, this does not mean that what comes next will be better. DM