• R E J Saunders

Centrism cannot hold

As a 90s teen one of the political lessons we were continuously told was that to attract voters, to win power, the left needed to shift towards the centre. Blair, Clinton, and whole host of other politicians swallowed right wing economic theory, harnessed it with a smattering of socialism and served it up warm to their citizens. It worked, at least for a while, but the post 9/11 world where the cold war victory consensus broke down push societies towards the extremes. The right reacted by amping up culture wars, blaming immigrants for all the social ills, and rallied those left behind by capitalism to their cause. Where once unions and left-wing parties mattered, now it was me and my own and what you can salvage for me that mattered. Socialist and left-wing parties got left behind because the centre was no-voters land.

This matters because right wing parties, especially across Europe, are co-opting socialised policies, especially healthcare and benefits, all the while mixing in poisonous social policies that pit those who have a little against those who have less. Trans rights, immigration, single mothers, the disabled, people of colour, women earning less than men, millennials, gen z, indeed anyone who is not white, home owning with a triple lock pension, are stranded by policies designed to entrench enough of the electorate for the parties in power. If I have just enough, why would I support a party that wants to share that with those who have less?

Party politics historically has rarely been on centre ground. Grand talks about consensuses and coalitions of the willing bely the diverse nature of democracy. Centrist politics flows from late-stage capitalism’s need to enrich just enough voters to allow those with most assets to remain entrenched in their castles in the sky. The con game is played out through the media, amplified and fuelled by attacks on others. 2021 is seeing the end game on the attacks on trans youths, their medical needs and rights within society abridged because a few prominent voices have whipped up hysteria over scientifically unproven “facts”. This is a rinse and repeat of the othering that has happened throughout history, and the biggest lesson from history is that unless we stand up for the minority being attacked, they will come for us next.

No amount of five alarm bells appears to be enough for some centrists who cling to the middle ground like it is a sacred place. For all the owned houses and pension pots what is coming down the line if society remains the same is an ever-decreasing circle of wealth and prosperity. In this algorithm age, more so that any other industrial revolution, the impacts of technologies are hidden and pervasive. Technology makes our lives riches in so many ways, yet atomises and splits apart the social seams that bind us together. Advocating for universal basic incomes, fair taxation and enforcement of those tax codes, law enforcement that works with communities, and rights for all peoples living within a nation’s boundaries should not be hills upon which people die. Yet, they do. Over, and over again, because centrist politics would rather compromise than give the people what they need.

The US learned that lesson the hard way in 2016 when right wing demagogues attempted to dismantle the apparatus of state. Unfortunately the UK appears to have learnt the wrong lesson, choosing the draw on Polish and Hungarian lessons, which in turn further shifts the Overton window to the right. A nation is only as strong as how it treats is least well off inhabitants, and the battle for their rights is lost before it has a chance to take root if the centre creeps ever right. The left, those who value rights and equity, cannot thrive unless they acknowledge that the centre is no place for decisive action. Voters, especially those being left being by the algorithmic age, need politicians who will fight for their rights, stand up for what is morally just, and not be afraid to shoot down right wing boondoggles.

Active citizenship stands up for the rights of all citizens, and where those rights clash provide equity and just action. Rights are not a cake to be sliced and dived up; rather, it is an ever-expanding bag of marbles which get added to for all our sakes. Minorities of all stripes add texture and flavour to our nation states, and today’s minority will become tomorrow’s rising stars. History perpetually shows that minorities accepted and assimilated into a nation’s fabric enrich it far beyond the sum of their parts. This is the legacy of the historic fight for rights. However, the right ever seeks to react against this, telling the person with little that those minorities are gunning for them, when in reality if the person with little stood shoulder to shoulder with the person with less then all win. This is where the left and the liberals need to come together, stepping left from the centre, and striking blows for all of us.

Britain is currently at a political cross-roads. May 2021 has seen an entrenchment of the right-wing neo-capitalist ideologies that tore the country from Europe, beggared vast swathes of the working class, and in turn are now fighting a faux-culture war that many voters have little real understanding of. On the horizon sits the probable break-up of the Union, leaving England ensconced and marooned on this tarnished sceptred isle. Like some ensorcelled puppet the media has been cowed into submission, parroting anything that will placate those with the power and money to actually make a difference. Such is the fall from the 1990s that the nation can scarcely be recognised. Except, that the Britain of today is very much a child of those centrist and right-wing policies implemented in the post cold war halcyon days.

President Biden has taken the pragmatic approach, co-opting socialised policies and breaking from neo-liberal dogma. Maybe it will be too late for the UK, as the next general election is in 2024 and the Labour Party are too fractured now to even more the political needle an inch to the left. Bidenomics could be an effective blueprint for the post-Corona-19 world, yet few politicians outside of Downing Street have the hotspur to pivot, least of all the current centre-left. This is why it is essential that Labour and the other left leaning parties it the UK move off the fence and fight for rights, better quality of life for all UK inhabitants, and see socialised policies as a net positive rather than an anchor. The centre cannot hold because it never did, it just gradually shifted further to the right, and now is the time to radically step left before we are left with a nation that only the smug, rich, privately educated will recognise.


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