The new parliamentary leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA), John Steenhuisen said he would stand for the position of party leader and would strive to make the party ‘an iron fortress that stands firm at the centre’.

In a speech to the Cape Town Press Club, Steenhuisen said that the May election ‘was a setback for the party’, and that, in contrast with its contenders, the African National Congress and the Economic Freedom Fighters, the DA ‘stood like a big, blue, wobbly jelly at the centre’ which, with ‘nothing holding us upright … wobbled to the left and wobbled to the right, buffeted by the political winds and latest populist cause du jour’.

The party was now challenged to ‘find our spine again’ and ‘re-anchor ourselves to our core values’.

‘We must confidently evangelise non-racialism, while maintaining our commitment to redress and reconciliation. We must reconnect with those voters who feel abandoned by us, while winning the votes of South Africans who have never voted for us before.’

Steenhuisen said: ‘Philosophically, our choice now must be to fill the vacuum at the non-racial centre of our politics. We must stand up for our values, and we must stand against the racial populism of the left and right.

To succeed, the party would have to avoid three pitfalls; a ‘lurch to the right in a knee-jerk reaction to desperately try to win back conservative voters’, a ‘lurch to the left … by becoming more socially democratic’, or thinking it could just ‘stand still’ and ‘adopt a business-as-usual approach’.

What the DA needed to do was ‘become an iron fortress that stands firm at the centre – as the bastion of hope and change, offering rational, evidence-based solutions to South Africa’s problems’.

This meant it would have to set out with ‘with spellbinding clarity’ its core values.

These were: A party that ‘truly fights for non-racialism’ without ‘being deaf, blind or hardened to the lived reality and inequality that still glaringly exist in South Africa’; works hard to ‘acknowledge and restore the dignity of South Africans across the spectrum’; advocates ‘an enterprise economy that promotes aspiration’; is ‘inclusive and provides strong, stable growth’; ‘builds equality of opportunity’; and ‘defends the Constitution, the rule of law and good clean governance’ as ‘our most powerful weapon in the fight against the countervailing forces of nationalism, nationalisation, socialism and radicalism that occupy our left and right flanks’.