When Tony Blair left office in 2006 it is unlikely he or anyone in politics at the time would have predicted the events of the following 10 years. Now Tony Blair, arguably one of our greatest ever centrist politicians, looks on at the centre ground struggling for relevancy and some pronouncing its death. Passion and populist politics on the left and right have overtaken the centre ground of politics to become the leaders in not just the UK but democratic countries around the world.
With Trump, Le Pen and Brexit on the rise what some would see as a more extreme side of politics has taken prominence and has usurped the centre ground in to power. What is similar between Trump, Brexit and Le Pen is that while they may be coming to power, their rise has not been based around strong or particularly new policy. What has helped their rise is the passion they have been using in their arguments. Blair himself blasted the pro-EU campaigners for their lack of passion during the EU referendum campaign.
The arguments that won the Presidency for Trump and the EU referendum were largely immigration and economic based. However both campaigns were also criticised for simplifying answers and often providing answers that would prove counter-intuitive, leading to the ‘tired of experts’ era. Instead the Trump and Brexit campaigns won through the passion with which they made their arguments, which appeared to convince voters despite their lack of depth in policy.
It is not the left and right which has usurped the centre ground but instead passion. While both Corbyn to the left and Trump to the right have applied their beliefs, even those that are unfounded beliefs, with passion and enthusiasm the centre ground has been left looking unambitious and not pro-active enough. Tony Blair arrived in 1997 with a passionate message on education and a strong message that voters could relate to and felt they had elected someone who understood their problems.
Now the centre ground relies almost too much on statistics and does not relay that factual information in a relatable way that the electorate can hook in to. While the centre ground arguably has a better grasp of the stats and a realistic, pragmatic route forward it will never achieve any traction unless there is a leader who can put that across in a relatable but crucially passionate way.
Most voters still associate themselves with the centre of politics, with over 45% of people putting themselves in the centre ground in an Opinium poll compared with 25% on the left and 30% on the right. The issue is that the centre has not had a dynamic or energetic leader since Tony Blair left office. The same Opinium poll asked participants to place political leaders on the political spectrum and perhaps unsurprisingly Blair gained most centre ground votes. This arguably proves that if the public see a centre ground leader, they may well vote for him or her.
This polling runs contrary to the recent run of voting habits which has seen Brexit happen. It could be argued that due to the lack of passionate centrist argument in that campaign voters that may normally associate with the centrist candidate were instead drawn elsewhere by the louder, more passionate arguments.
Of course passion stems from confidence and it could also be that having not won a major argument in almost a decade that the centre ground has lost its confidence to put forward a passionate argument. Once again the centrists can take inspiration from Tony Blair, as he built momentum and confidence following over 15 years of Conservative reign during the 1980’s and 90’s. Although an election had not been won in three attempts, Blair had the faith and confidence in his beliefs and the ability to translate them into relatable, understandable and passionate arguments which led to a huge landslide in 1997. It is the kind of passion, in this case for the European Union, which looks to be winning voters for the Liberal Democrats currently.
The centrists among Labour, Liberal Democrats and even the Conservatives must have the confidence of their beliefs and an energy and passion which can match those voices that have been winning the immigration, economical and Brexit arguments. While Britain currently may have ‘had enough of experts’ it may not have had enough of sensible, fact based policy if put across with a passion and clear path for improving lives.