I am what I am – take me or leave me – Clem Sunter

For the last year, I have been talking about the anti-establishment flag that has been raising its head around the world. It represents the growing lack of faith in professional politicians in America, Britain, Europe, Australia and many other countries.

People have simply had enough of spin doctors manipulating what politicians say in order to please as many constituencies as possible and to avoid being politically incorrect. They are fed up with expense scandals and other examples of the real life imperfections of politicians that cut right across the ideals that they urge the electorate to live their own life by.

They hate political speak where politicians look terribly serious on TV as they say nothing at all because everything is qualified to the point of being meaningless. They see through the empty promises made of extra welfare payments while cutting taxes and the contradictions between the two policies resulting in the rise and rise of public debt. They shrug their shoulders when compromises are made by the politicians to turn the impossible into the possible. The public knew it all along.

Washington, Whitehall and Canberra are at their lowest level in the popular rankings in years. I am not for one moment saying that all politicians are corrupt, inept or morally bankrupt but their brand has taken a huge hit. It makes life for the ones that are honest, hard-working and genuinely concerned about creating a better quality of life a lot more difficult.

Thus, we have the rise of new figures in the political domain which is greeted with total mystification and amazement by the ever present media, by political gurus and also by many middle-of-the-road, reasonable members of the public who are accustomed to the double meanings and ambivalence of the existing generation of politicians.

A trio of unlikely new players

The person grabbing the most headlines at the moment is the US presidential candidate Donald Trump who has the knack for making horrendous statements about Mexicans, women and anything else that crosses his mind. Even though he is riding high among polls that are probably being taken among the party faithful rather than the public at large, he has struck a raw nerve in America through not behaving like your normal career politician.

He may not even make it to the Republican primaries, let alone become the presidential candidate for the Republicans; but he has already redefined the forthcoming presidential election with his direct, and often thoroughly offensive, language.

The second person who has emerged as an outlier candidate in the American presidential race, but on the Democratic side, is 73-year-old Bernie Sanders. He is the junior US senator from Vermont. With a reputation for authenticity, he is reeling in Hillary Clinton, although it is still a long shot that he will overtake her to become the Democratic candidate. He does not yet have the problems she has of sending emails of possible state importance from one’s own personal computer.

At a recent rally in Los Angeles which resembled a Led Zeppelin concert, Sanders said he was out to cause a political revolution because he was immune to any lobbying by business to keep the economy as unequal as it is. He also proclaimed to loud cheers that education was much more productive than incarceration. In short, he presents himself as the new broom that will sweep away the spinelessness of the current Washington establishment and replace it with a real commitment to transform the US into a fairer society. His lack of celebrity up till now is his real weapon to unseat the establishment.

The third player comes from across the ocean in the UK and also calls himself a democratic socialist and anti-poverty campaigner. His name is Jeremy Corbyn who, at the age of 66, is six years younger than his American counterpart. At the moment, he is the clear leader to win the race to be the next leader of the Labour Party. He campaigned against Apartheid and was arrested outside South Africa House in London in 1984.

During the expenses scandal that engulfed Parliament in 2009, he was shown to be claiming one of the lowest amounts of expenses of any MP. The following year he was the lowest. He is a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and wants to cancel the UK’s nuclear deterrent programme. He was totally against the Iraq war.

He sympathises with the cause of Palestinians and wants to re-introduce my great-great-aunt Beatrice Webb and her husband Sidney’s Clause 4 into the Labour Party constitution calling for the nationalisation- or re-nationalisation- of sectors of the British economy. He has stated a willingness to review Britain’s relationship with Russia, a move welcomed by Putin.

All in all, he is even more left-wing than his predecessor Ed Miliband. The policies he professes to endorse have already been roundly condemned by many ex-members of the New Labour movement including Tony Blair himself. They believe his leadership will ensure the party stays in the political wilderness for the next twenty years. However, unlike Blair, Corbyn has not been perceived by the public as betraying his socialist roots by making a fortune out of being a celebrity and performing public speaking engagements.


We are entering a new world of politics where the platform of social media is creating unexpected heroes and heroines out of ordinary people coming out of nowhere with the exception of Trump who is a billionaire and was already famous for hosting the series called The Apprentice.

The principle of ‘take me or leave me- I am what I am’ is ringing bells around the world. We have an example right here in South Africa of such a principle. It is Thuli Madonsela who is the Public Protector. If she stood for President of the country, I think she would get quite a following.

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