29 April 2021
The season so far.
By Neil Tidmarsh
The pandemic might have knocked MMA (Mixed Martial Arts, i.e. cage-fighting) out for the count, but this season’s PIFL (the Political Infighting League) has more than filled the gap for those of us who need a regular fix of violent blood-sports.
And what a season it’s proving to be! The action certainly isn’t disappointing, even after last season set such a high bar with the SNP’s ‘Sturgeon v. Salmond’ classic. This week’s ‘Johnson v Cummings’ has the makings of an epic with the potential for much bloodshed. Players are warming up for a fine game in Northern Ireland where two thirds of the DUP’s assembly members are about to take to the pitch against their own leader, the formidable Arlene Foster[i]. The EU thrilled us with its recent ‘Aggro in Ankara’ where the President of the Council (if the gossip is to be believed) pulled a fast one on the President of the Commission and left her standing with no seat beside the big boys, in a novel tactical manoeuvre which has already entered the PIFL hall of fame as the ‘Turkish Sofa’.
But some of the most subtle and intriguing play has come, surprisingly, from arenas which have traditionally shown little interest in even qualifying for the League. Germany’s mask of order and control has slipped with evidence of infighting within its governing CDU party; the selection of Ms Merkel’s successor as party leader has been a slow-burner and it’s been a bumpy ride to the top for Armin Laschet, appointed this week in a session of the party’s ruling board described as “fractious”. And the CDU’s subsequent slump in the polls suggests that the party might be making efforts to climb even further up the League’s table before too long.
Further unexpected reports of significant action are emerging from other countries where PIFL play has traditionally been suppressed or unreported.
In Iran, a leaked recording of comments by foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif gave the world a unique glimpse of a serious split in the regime in Tehran, of infighting between the government and the powerful Revolutionary Guard. President Rouhani has blown his whistle and ordered an enquiry into the leak – that may well prevent further reports but it’s unlikely to put a stop to the game itself.
In China, a high-ranking party official and former premier has apparently broken ranks by publishing an essay which ostensibly pays tribute to his late mother but which also condemns bullying and oppression. Other members of the regime seem to have taken exception to it; originally published in a newspaper in the autonomous Macau region, it was censored and removed from social media when it became an internet hit.
And in Jordan, King Abdullah and his half-brother Prince Hamzah are clearly engaged in some fine PIFL action, but the origins of their game and the strategic aim of the two players remain somewhat obscure.
But to witness the game in its purest form, undiluted and unadulterated, spectators must turn to South Africa where the ANC, unsurprisingly, is yet again proving itself to be the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. Unsurprisingly because PIFL naturally thrives best in a one-party state, where all political conflict, competition and power-play can only come from within. And the patronage inevitably accumulated by a party with a monopoly of power leads equally inevitably to corruption which leads equally inevitably to internal squabbles over its proceeds. The African National Congress has been in government, more or less unchallenged, for decades.
ANC member Lucky Mbuzi is about to appear in court after being arrested for the alleged murder of another ANC member, Mduduzi Madikizela, who was his rival for the position of ward councillor in the Eastern Cape. Also in the Eastern Cape, another councillor – Hluphekile Bobotyane – was charged with five murders last week after a violent mob allegedly burned its victims alive. These aren’t isolated incidents. The fight for a share of the party’s power and patronage is often a fight to the death, literally. Meetings during recent party leadership elections in Mpumalanga province were disrupted by machete-wielding agitators. Scores of politically-motivated murders have been committed in KwaZulu-Natal; one researcher, Mary de Haas, claims that at least ninety officials have met violent deaths there in the last six years.
ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe said this week that the party “condemns the cowardly murder of comrade Mduduzi. We are concerned about what appears to be a growing, disturbing culture of violent and criminal activities being orchestrated to eliminate others.” In other words, as translated by The Times a few days ago – ‘ANC members, please stop killing each other!’
It’s all a long way from the wallpaper in number 11 Downing Street or that game of musical chairs in Ankara. Clearly, in some parts of the world, the game really is a matter of life and death, too serious to be considered a game even. PIFL lives in fear of them breaking away and forming some sort of murderously unsporting Global Super-League. What a dangerous rival that would be. The PIFL wouldn’t stand a chance against a GSL if that kind of infighting broke out.
[i] Stop press – a short, sharp match, as it happens – results just announced – a first round knock-out – Ms Foster is stepping down.
Tile photo: ‘Street Fight’ by Goya, Metropolitan Museum of Art (Creative Commons).