Politics is very fluid, it is ever changing, and it must, as it must ebb and flow along with the public opinion and the Overton window. Traditionally, elections are won in the centre ground, as the party that appeal best to them traditionally gain their majorities. There is a big difference between centrism and the centre ground; both Labour and the Tories have never really been centrist parties, but have both managed to take the centre ground for themselves over the years. There is only one ‘centrist party’ in the UK, and they have only ever been the small party in a coalition.
The spectrum and makeup of UK politics are ever-changing, but arguably over the past 2 years, it has shifted more radically than ever before. The Tories have taken a lurch to the right through Brexit, and since Corbyn’s leadership election victory Labour has moved to the left wing, although their manifesto will have told you another story. The Liberal Democrats have been demolished, and both Labour/Tory moderates find themselves on the fringes of the parties they once commanded. Traditionally, the UK has never strayed too far from the centre ground, but due to the radical paths both main parties are treading, the public is finding itself being pulled in different directions.
Therefore, the UK currently finds itself more divided than ever. The greatest divide right now is between Remainers and Leavers, even within each single party, as the Tories feud on Europe never seems to cease. Through the 2017 election we also now see big divides in age, social class, education levels, towns and cities, globalisation, and liberalism, as one side plucks for May’s Tories, and the other Corbyn’s Labour. Public opinion is shifting at a greater speed than ever before, but it is not simply lurching one way. As the latest BSA findings highlight, on some areas Britain’s opinions are moving to the left, and on others, to the right.
The public are now moving more in favour of greater tax, more redistribution of income from rich to poor, and for the first time since the financial crash in 2008, more spending – signalling an end to the public’s support of austerity. Osborne economics is well and truly dead. Attitudes towards benefits are also starting to soften, especially regarding disabled people, and the march of social-liberalism is continuing. Record proportions of people, especially older people, are becoming comfortable with and more supporting of same-sex relationships, pre-marital sex, abortions, and even euthanasia.
However, the study also showed the public becoming more favourable about other traditionally conservative views, especially on issues such as crime, terrorism, immigration, as well as civil liberties. As Buzzfeed highlight, 70% believe the police should be able to stop and search at random, 53% support detention without trial of terror suspects, 80% support video surveillance, 50% agree with email and internet surveillance, and support for defence spending is also at a 30-year high. These are where the divides across the country are breeding, and growing quickly.
Around the globe, we are seeing very different fortunes of centrist parties and the centre ground. Emmanuel Macron, a centrist, has managed to win the presidency, and his party En Marche, despite being just one-year-old, has managed to form a government. Trudeau and his centre-left party in Canada are operating successfully from the centre, and Merkel and the CDU have held the centre ground in Germany for 12 years, and show no signs of letting up. Obama won over the centre ground in droves throughout his presidency, but the US is another country that is experiencing radical divide between the left and the right. The rise of Trump and Sanders mirrors that of the Brexit right and the Corbyn left, and Clinton’s centrist, moderate politics found itself rejected in the states it needed to claim victory last November. Austria’s Presidential election run-off also went down to a left wing and far right candidates, with the left-wing Van der Bellen seeing off his rival.
But is it as simple as the public lurching sharply to the left and the right? The big theme in politics, especially within the UK and US right now, is anti-establishment. The vote for Brexit, for Trump, for Corbyn, even for Macron is some respects, was about radical change, a vote against elites, and the status quo. Centrism, and the Centre ground both tend to represent the liberal elites – something the people are supposedly now tired of. Both the left wing and the right wing are very anti-establishment at their core, and this is something that the public is tapping into.
So, what is the future of centrism and the centre ground within the UK? Because of the radical nature of the two main parties, there have been calls of a new centrist, liberal, pro-EU party headed up by both Labour and Tory moderates. The rise and success of Macron in France has only strengthened these calls. Although we’ll probably never know, this doesn’t seem to be the answer. And anyways, I want strong moderate Labour MPs to stay in Labour, and fight for centre-left politics. The Lib Dems are demolished, and most certainly are not the answer the people seek.
Both the right and the left lack any credibility. Both want, and are fighting for a hard Brexit, and are isolationist. A hard Brexit, which includes leaving the single market and the customs union would be catastrophic for the UK. The moderates from both Labour and the Tories must continue to fight for single market access, for close connections with the EU going forward, and this will be their way back in. Brexit is an act of self-harm, it will hurt the UK’s finances, and when it has taken its toll the public will want credibility. The moderate’s times will come again.