Tuesday 10 April 2018
A New Party for the Right ‘Centre’ Ground?
The Observer reported at the weekend on plans for a new centre party in UK politics. This new party will apparently have at least £50 million in funds and is backed by a network of entrepreneurs, philanthropists and donors. As The Observer says:
‘Senior figures from the worlds of business and charity are understood to be involved, as well as former supporters of the main parties, including a number of former Tory donors.’
A final decision has not yet been taken as to whether the new formation will become an electoral party or whether it will instead fund community activity to try and influence other political parties. The organisation has had full time staff working for it for the past year.
It will apparently take ideas from both the left and right of the political spectrum, and might well look something like new Labour. Tony Blair, one of the main architects of new Labour in the 1990s, stopped short of backing the new party, speaking on the BBC Today programme, but said that there is a huge gap on the centre ground in UK politics. Blair commented:
“What is most sensible is for both of the main parties to realise they can pour scorn on people who are thinking of these things, but ultimately they’ve got to understand there is a constituency in this country which is socially liberal, in favour of strong methods of social justice, but also believes in a well-run enterprising economy.”
Opinion polling suggests that most people tend to define their political views as centrist, but that can be misleading. Terms like moderate are often used to describe centrist views and words like extreme, for off centre views, of right or left. I think people like to hedge their bets a bit by saying they are in the centre politically, also.
People’s view of what the centre in politics is can vary as well, but it is likely there is political space for some kind of centrist view, but what appears to be being suggested sounds very much like a pro-EU liberal establishment type party. This type of political view has taken a bit of a battering though in recent times.
The Lib Dems, an established, self styled centrist party, pro-EU too, did poorly at last year’s general election and are only polling around 7% at the moment. They did of course blot their copybook by entering a coalition with the Tories in 2010, and bear much responsibility for the situation we find ourselves in today.
£50 million can buy you a lot of publicity but any new party needs to put down roots and inspire activists at local level. This normally takes quite a long time to achieve though.
Comparisons have quickly been made with the Social Democratic Party (SDP) of the 1980s in the UK. After a blaze of publicity in the media, they got to 50% in the opinion polls at one stage, but finished up with only 23 Parliamentary seats, in the 1983 general election. By the end of the decade they had disbanded, after coming behind the Monster Raving Loony party at a by-election, except those who joined the then Liberal party, to form the Lib Dems.
The First Past the Post electoral system in the UK makes it very difficult for new parties to win representation, which was the fate of the SDP. Inspiration it seems is being taken from Emmanuel Macron’s victory in the French presidential election last year. He formed a new party, En Marche (Forward) pretty much from scratch, but he was known as a politician after serving in François Hollande's Socialist party government.
The Five Star Movement did very well in Italy’s recent general election and it was started by Beppe Grillo, a comedian only nine years ago. This party does seem to take from the left and right in terms of policies. En Marche, is basically a new Labour clone. Both these successes though have come about in more proportional electoral systems, which makes things a bit easier.
The centre of British politics shifted massively to the right when Margaret Thatcher became Tory party leader in the 1970s. The SDP manifesto for the 1983 general election was considered centrist at the time, but was similar to what the Labour party offered at last year’s general election, and was labelled ‘far left.’
My bet is that this new centrist party doesn’t get off the ground, but let’s not be fooled it is centrist only in relation to the neo-liberal consensus. In most respects, it is a right wing ideological grouping, and we have plenty of them around already.