This year’s General Election saw a substantial evolution in British politics; Labour and the Conservatives have headed towards their polar opposites by pursuing more radical policies as well as echoing past leaders and ideologies.
However, as a consequence of this increase in the popularity of the radical, there is an ever-increasing gap opening up in British politics.
Ever since Tony Blair stepped out of 10 Downing Street, and Nick Clegg walked into 11 Downing Street, centre politics in Britain has slowly disappeared.
Phillip Collins, the former speech writer to the aforementioned ex-Prime Minister, stated in the Times that “The Tories are committing Euro-suicide. Labour is kidding itself that a party with no economic policy can govern. There is a chasm in the middle of British Politics.”
Collins made this comment after the election this year, and whilst he emphasises the 2 major parties, he is correct in asserting this lack of a viable centre in British Politics.
The Anti-Brexit Tory MP Anna Soubry, the only Tory MP to be supported by the More United group, states that there is a possibility for a new centre party. She said to the New Statesman that “If it could somehow be the voice of a moderate sensible, forward-thinking, visionary middle way with open minds - actually things which I’ve believed in all my life – better get on with it.”
Yet with this yearning for a newly reformed centre, the question must be asked; how did we get here, and what is the solution?
Jeremy Corbyn’s success at the General Election this year has relatively killed any Labour division, at least for the next couple of months. Whilst the party continues to be divided over Brexit, as seen by members of the Parliamentary Party rebelling over the Chuka Umunna amendment, moderate Labour MPs have been forced to eat their words; even Harriet Harman spoke in front of the PLP and conceded that her doubts in Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership were misplaced.
Despite this, Labour member’s previous doubt of Jeremy Corbyn’s abilities brought to light the argument for a new centre party, however this concept was stumped by another factor which points towards the end of centre politics; the lack of electoral reform in the UK.
The First Past the Post electoral system used in the UK favours the Conservative/Labour duopoly which dominates British Politics. With this system, the possibility of a viable centre party is almost impossible. Even when the SDP and Liberals formed an alliance in 1983 and won 25.4% of the vote, they only won 4.5% of the seats in the House.
As long as this system persists, there is no way a centre party can ever succeed whilst Labour and the Conservatives dominate.
It would require a long hard slog to change people’s outlook, and convince them to take on a positive outlook of another party of which they weren’t as accustomed to voting for. Yet many commentators claim that the centre has failed to perform for everyday working-class people, and the neoliberal outlook that was produced in the late 1990’s has not succeeded in bringing not only the UK, but the World, into a brighter age.
In March 2017, the Institute of Fiscal Studies predicted that households would be worse off by an average 20% by 2021. It stated that incomes will be down by 18% and that a childless couple would lose £5900 from their income. This would be the most sustained slowdown in income growth since the records began in 1961. These statistics show why people are turning to more populist, radical policies; centre politics failed the majority of the electorate.
Nevertheless, there is a future for centre politics; the Liberal Democrats are the defenders and the purveyors of British centrism.
The party’s new leader, Vince Cable, is extraordinarily positive about the future. He recently visited Yorkshire, a key battleground for the party. Their presence in the area was obliterated in the General Election, with Nick Clegg losing his seat in Sheffield Hallam and Greg Mullholand losing in Leeds North West. Vince Cable blamed this all on the surprising rise of Corbyn, stating that “There was this surge in the Labour Party which we all underestimated. Corbyn did much better than expected.”
The Liberal Democrats are evidently still suffering after the poisoned chalice which was the coalition, yet there is a future for them as a viable centre party. Cable states that “There are some very decent moderate people in the labour party, but the party is now dominated by one group, and on the Tory side there are hard line Brexiteers.”
Cable and many other Liberal democrats are now arguing that whilst the two major parties veer further and further towards the extremes, they can step in to offer a reasonable, moderate, central position, which will appeal to the British electorate.
The Liberal Democrats have been, and will continue to be the voice and champions of the disenfranchised centre. Whilst Labour drag their feet as Corbyn and his allies pull the party further left, and May is pulled to the right by UKIP-like members of her party, the Liberal Democrats can offer a real opportunity for people in this country to support a moderate party which stands for rights, equality, and freedom to all citizens.
However, whilst the Liberal Democrats defend the centre, there must be a fight for a fairer system, so that the electorate can be truly represented in Westminster. Until that day, the Liberal Democrats must stand as a bastion for centre politics.
Through them, a more positive, reasonable vision for our country can be built, yet it must be built on radical policies and hope, rather than method-style campaigning that Tim Farron deployed in the General Election of this year.
The future of the centre lies in the hands of the Liberal Democrats, and we must put our trust in them to guard it for the luxury of future generations, so that they are not left with the choice between a rigidly socialist Labour Party or a corrupt, self-serving Conservative Party.