Why Britain needs centrism

Over the past year the global political landscape has shifted with unprecedented volatility. From the election of Donald Trump to Britain’s exit from the European Union; analysts, the public and even the establishment itself have been left pondering the next twist in what is becoming a defining political period of our time.

 

The snap election in the UK displayed all the unpredictability of modern politics in that it witnessed Theresa May suffer an embarrassing tactical defeat in what was supposedly a foregone conclusion. The result can be interpreted as a protest against a hard Brexit and the austerity that has left millions poorer. At the same time, despite Labour’s notable resurgence, their failure to secure overall victory could be deemed a rejection of their extremely left-leaning ideology. The situation calls for a compromise between two opposite sides of the political spectrum. The days of Blair have gone but the election result poses several intriguing questions: what happened to the centre-left in UK politics? And is there an appetite for widespread resurgence?

 

Whilst there have been a variety of challenges to neo-liberalism around the world, Europe has held steady and shown confidence in the likes of Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel. Right-wing populism has diminished on the continent, with attempts to seize power by figures such as Geert Wilders and Norbert Hofer thwarted at the ballot box. Despite fears of a descent into xenophobia and isolationism, Europe has responded with unity and hope.

 

So how does this reflect on the future of Brexit? It can be argued that the recent European triumphs over populism have allowed EU governments to resist extremist pressures. One could stipulate that there is now a potential appetite in the UK to mirror our European counterparts. Populism was prominent in the lead-up and immediate aftermath of Brexit, but has begun to dissipate since then.

 

Yet due to representative deficiencies amongst the British centre-left, we remain in political limbo. The Liberal Democrats are the only current centrist alternative, but their role in the coalition has tainted their public image in the eyes of many voters. It is up to a new centre-left party to emerge and act as an intermediary for the various groups which supported Remain in 2016 and have opposed a hard Brexit since the referendum.

However, the explosion of Corbynmania could potentially undermine the resurgence of the centre. His undeniable popularity amongst grassroots Labour members has spread to large swathes of the general public. Trivial though it may seem, it is no accident that Corbyn t-shirts were the third highest trending item on EBay following the election. Further evidence can be drawn from events at Glastonbury. Corbyn’s appearance on the main stage was met with a greater sense of adoration than most musical acts that weekend.

 

Whilst this does not translate into electoral victory, there is renewed feeling within Labour that despite not always agreeing internally, the party can continue its resurgence. Although the public lacks any real appetite for socialism, Corbyn continues to gain support. Thus the centre-left must choose one of two options: patience or revolution.

 

Whilst on paper a new centre-left party may seem appealing, the immense difficulty involved in creating one hardly makes the venture feasible. Rumours of a Blairite coup or the reappearance of a prodigal David Miliband have little substance. Suggestions of mass desertion have fallen flat as many lack the confidence to take the first step. The reshuffle of the shadow cabinet (which now includes his onetime rival, Owen Smith) indicates that Corbyn is willing to extend a limited olive branch. In addition to that many Blairite MPs, such as Chuka Umunna and Yvette Cooper, have ceased to contribute prominently. The vacant position of the centre-left looks set to remain empty for a while longer.

With Brexit on the way, it is vital that the centre-left rebuilds its influence in order to maintain some form of consensus in British politics. A socially and economically liberal ideology would challenge both the unrealistic, utopian policies of Corbyn and the archaic attitudes of the DUP and their powerful Conservative allies. The centre-left would address the scepticism surrounding Brexit, softening the current hard approach with policies such as a referendum on the deal negotiated with the European Union. Given the scale of the crisis the UK is facing, a powerful and capable opposition to a hard Brexit is necessary. Following a favourable election, a centre-left ‘intermediary’ party could work to achieve some form of consensus between the diametrically opposed Labour and Conservative parties. Sadly, the insurmountable difficulties in launching a successful new party in the UK mean that the chances of this happening are slim indeed.

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