Head to Head: Is centrism dead?

Our commentators give their opinions on some of the most important debates in politics. Look out for our Twitter poll, where you can answer this month's question.



Is centrism dead?





Lauren White


'When Jeremy Corbyn won his first leadership election, the Labour Party was still reeling from Miliband’s crushing defeat. We saw a manifesto from Ed Miliband that was centre-left and too cautious. It was rejected by the people. When Mr Corbyn came along, we saw a leader with radical left-wing views and we laughed in his face at them.


“He’ll never lead us to victory!” We cried.


Well, it seems everyone was wrong about that.


While Labour didn’t win or lose the election, they did do very well. Corbyn won the largest swing of the vote to Labour since 1945 and gained 30 seats. That is a clear embrace of the left-wing politics put forward by Labour.


As a former shadow cabinet member told me on the night of the election, winning was “never on the cards” but “we have set the agenda”.


No more tuition fees, no more tax cuts for the rich, no more selective education and no more privatisation is what the country was offered and what the country warmed to.


I suspect there will be MPs who still cling to the centre, but the centre’s king ,Tony Blair, has been silent since the election, hasn’t he? That speaks volumes.'





Linus West


'Centrism always has been a walking corpse. The only thing in question was when the funeral would take place. The economic contradictions are too great, the systems unsustainable. We squeezed ourselves out a few decades of prosperity, but sooner or later it was going to start eating itself up. 


That’s now come to fruition. Ten years on from the recession, and wages still haven’t recovered.


You can’t export millions of jobs offshore year after year on the one hand, and maintain a high-wage, flourishing economy on the other. You can’t bomb countries into the ground, while sustaining a harmonious, multicultural society. You can’t nurture crony capitalism in the private sector, and not expect it to corrupt our politics. 


Either you promote honesty, caring and equality - or you don’t. There’s no in-between.


People are seeing neoliberalism and the third way for what they are, and seeking alternatives. Understandably, they opt for something radical. The question now is what end of the political spectrum we revert to. The corporatism and xenophobia-lite of the Tories and UKIP - or the collectivism and compassion of Labour and the Greens.'










Sam Young


Whilst mainstream British politics may be moving away from neoliberal homogeneity, it is important to put the question of the ‘death of centrism’ into a wider context.


European centrism has effectively thwarted the rise of the continental far right. The French and Dutch elections proved that the fear of extreme nationalism can translate into centrist votes, while in Germany it seems inevitable that Angela Merkel will continue her centre-right, pro-EU chancellorship. Eastern Europe is more mixed, but remains more stable now than at any period in history.


The situation in the US differs but the net result is the same. Despite some reformist efforts, America retains very little centrist tradition, instead remaining subservient to what Gore Vidal called “one political party, with two right wings”. Even Donald Trump’s fluke victory (he lost the popular vote by three million) is no more than an unfortunate symptom of an inherently right-wing polity. Centrism has neither lost nor gained anything.


Yes, the political system is diverging in the UK, but British politics often splits when met with crises such as Brexit. Centrism has grown in Europe over the last year, proving that moderate politics is alive on the continent, whilst America never truly embraced it in the first place. It may be sidelined in the US and dormant in the UK, but the European experience proves that centrism is far from dead.




Daniel Clark


Centrism, which could reasonably be referred to as the magpie ideology on account of its tendency to pick and choose what it likes depending on what's expedient is very much alive and well in our modern political life. George Osborne, who could also reasonably be referred to as a magpie on account of his obsessive accumulation of jobs, is pushing centrist ideas into the mainstream of the journalistic discussion. Meanwhile, over in France, the centre has managed to be ‘En Marche’ into the limelight under the guidance of the charismatic Emmanuel Macron.


Hold your fingers to the wrist of the political landscape, and you can feel the beating pulse of centrism.


Wherever there is political discontent (which is almost everywhere), combined with no coherent solution to these problems except that which is provided by either populists or dull politicians, the centre reaches out a hand to the electorate. “Vote for us”, they say. “We’re different”, they lie. Just look to the French elections: the French have overwhelmingly chosen the centrist Macron over the far-right Marine Le Pen. It is quite clear that, far from being alive, the centre is up to its own tricks: winning elections when the only plausible alternative is too awful an idea to even begin to contemplate.




Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Please reload

Want to respond? Submit an article.


We provide a space for reasoned arguments and constructive disagreements.

Help to improve the quality of political debate – support our work today.