The vacant centre-ground: can centrism revive itself as a political force in Britain?

By Simon Green

In today’s world, it seems that everyone’s opinion has to be extreme. You have to be either completely for one thing or completely against it, leaving the people who find individual ideas or beliefs from either side that truly reflect their opinions accurately, labelled as ‘fence sitters’.

But is sitting on the fence really such a bad thing? In the era of Hard Brexiteers and reality stars in the White House refusing to condemn neo-Nazis, how is the intense political vitriol whipped up by sensationalist media outlets and mis-informed Twitter users really working out for us?

Now of course, I’m not saying all Tories are stubborn isolationists and that all Republicans support the Donald’s social views or policies, but those who do fall into these categories are always the ones that make the headlines and ultimately seem to get into the real positions of power.

So if idealistic right-wingers aren’t the answer then the left must be. Well, not exactly. If we take the example of Jeremy Corbyn’s band of merry socialists, it would seem that they don’t really have what it takes to win an out-right majority. Of course, they exceeded all expectations at an election which only 6 weeks before was billed as the end of days for Labour.

When recognising Corbyn’s election success, people like myself should be factored in. Despite voting for Corbyn’s Labour, I would never categorise myself as a socialist, merely a voter whose politics is left of Theresa May’s Conservatives and who is not willing to face the shame of having to vote for the impotent Lib Dems.

While some of Labour’s manifesto policies were appealing to me, many went too far with their spending and borrowing requirements, but since Corbyn’s grandfather-style charm characterised a campaign that far outshone the lacklustre and complacent Tories, and the lack of a credible centre option, I was left with no choice.

I’m willing to bet that my case is not an exceptional one, and that whether it was the promise of tuition fee abolition or just a middle finger to the Tories, many student supporters of Labour aren’t actually hard line left-wingers.

According to the Intergenerational Foundation, between the 2010 and 2015 elections the Lib Dems lost 25% of the 18-24 year old vote, with a 12% gain by Labour. This shows that in 2010 many of the student community voted for a centre-left Liberal Democrat party, and then felt obliged to switch much of their vote to Labour following the tuition fee debacle, it being the lesser of two political evils. We were also faced with the same quandary at the last election.

But if the Lib Dems are dead as a political force, that doesn’t mean it has to drag the whole centre down with it. France’s Emmanuel Macron and his En Marche! movement proves that the centre can be effective. His movement well and truly swept through France and whether or not you believe Macron’s presidential victory is a real political barometer of centrist feeling in France, En Marche’s 44% share of the vote in subsequent parliamentary elections surely must be.

While Macron won the presidency as the only alternative to Marine Le Pen, his party won against socialists, moderate right wingers and nationalist candidates across France. This shows that a centre movement can do everything the centre is accused of lacking: creating a passionate following, providing a credible alternative to traditional political extremism, and actually winning!

So in this era of binary political oppositions and over-simplified ideologies, don’t just dismiss the centre. If it can shake off the intelligent but uninspiring figure of Vince Cable and his Liberal Democrats, and start from scratch with a new party, the centre could stop sitting on the fence and, in a few years, could be sitting on the government benches. If it can happen in France, why not here?

Photograph: thierryleclerca via Flickr and Creative Commons

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