Centrism – dead or merely dormant?

This blog rarely ventures into the area of politics, which isn’t to say that politicians don’t get the occasional mention; but it is only occasional and invariably unflattering. Politics, though? That’s an altogether different matter – a place (to paraphrase The Joker) like Gotham; best avoided by decent people who’d be happier someplace else. So this is an unaccustomed foray into shark-infested waters – unarmed, under-equipped, it has ‘ill-advised’ written all over it…

I (and I promise this will be the end of water-based analogies) would happily admit to – in political terms – not exactly paddling in the very middle of the stream, nor indeed where the prevailing currents are presently at their strongest. That said, neither do I see myself as someone who gravitates to the extreme ideological margins; with that in mind, I’m a bit puzzled as to why I feel quite so alienated.

My view – and it’s a long held one – is that the vast majority of the sentient population occupy a relatively narrow segment of the political spectrum, roughly spanning the arc from social democrats (although in the UK we don’t call them that – it’s all a bit too Scandinavian) to traditional one-nation tories. I belong in the former group, which remains sadly, somewhat lazily, but perhaps understandably tainted by Blairism; I persist in using the term social democrat because I see it as quite distinct not only from socialism but also from the present leadership and direction of our principal party of the left.

My alienation – something I’m convinced I have in common with many of those on the centre right (at least those with whom I have some contact) – is the frustration which derives from being  inadequately represented by our parliamentarians; not because the parliamentary consensus doesn’t share our views, but rather because it quite probably does and seems too timid to express itself, thereby allowing the agenda to be commandeered by a vocal minority of lunatics on either flank. Until the moderates – maybe numbering about 500 out of the 650, but we’ll never really know unless they speak up – until they find their collective voice (and balls!) we will not have a properly functioning parliamentary democracy.

In part this problem has its roots in the use of lazy collective terminology – ‘the left’ being just one example; there is no homogenised left, any more than it would be possible to throw a small blanket over everybody to the right of centre. It’s a handy device if you want to appear dismissive, but it’s hardly contributing much to an informed debate. But, whatever the root causes, it’s a sad and dangerous state of affairs when both of the main parties appear to be operating in fear of a fringe who are neither representative of their traditional support nor even the majority of their own sitting MPs. Not really a functioning democracy in anything other than name. 

These battles, on both sides of the political divide, might not literally be as old as the hills but will probably last most of us a lifetime: often they are depicted as ‘struggles for the soul of the movement’, which sounds so much more benign and principled than the more truthful assessment that what they usually represent are shameless power grabs. Meanwhile we continue to hope that moderation – being still the majority mindset both inside of parliament and out – will somehow eventually reassert itself. How realistic a hope that actually is becomes ever more questionable while each of what we call “the main parties” appears susceptible to the influences of zealots of differing varieties – the disaffected anarchists who try repeatedly to attach themselves to Labour; the neoliberal dogmatists who find their host at the fringes of the Tories.

The latter are probably fewer in number, albeit often with the wherewithal to buy themselves a cloak of either anonymity or respectability; but the motives are the same – to operate outside the societal norms which constrain most of us, whether we like it or not. Using bought influence to manipulate the democratic processes might be less visible than throwing bricks at the windows of a bank, but just as destructive in its different way.

The counter argument to this gloomy prognosis is that in the end the ‘centrists’ invariably win; there’s truth in that, but, having won, to then have to expend so much energy battling with their respective fringes – relatively small in number, but disproportionately vocal and disruptive – is no recipe for effective administration, even less so for edifying public spectacle. So while it’s no real surprise that a great rump of backbenchers on opposite sides of the house frequently turn out to have – to quote the late Jo Cox – more in common, the problem remains that moderates are, by the very nature of being moderate, inclined to operate quietly, go about their business undemonstratively. Restraint and tolerance rarely make the front pages.

As I’m coming to the end of this – and it’s taken a while – we seem to be in the throes of yet another round of ‘what about?’ politicking: the apparent anti-semitism still perpetuated by certain elements of the left, countered by accusations of Islamophobic factions operating inside the political right. As if we have nothing more pressing or constructive to be occupying our minds right now. I smell burning, hand me my fiddle…

It does say something though for the state of our politics that it can seemingly be reduced to a hand of bigotry poker, with all sides apparently clamouring to be dealt in. Which is obviously hyperbole, but that’s what grabs the headlines.

Right, I’ve reached the point where it’s either publish or delete; I’d like to say it’s been cathartic, but one last read-through has just left me in need of a walk. So perhaps it hasn’t been entirely wasted after all…



5 thoughts on “Centrism – dead or merely dormant?

  1. It seems to me that as a country we have almost reached a point of no return with at least seven massive, almost insoluble problems. The NHS, the transport system (especially railways), power generation, pensions and provision for old age, housing, the environment in general and Brexit, the last of which looks like a serious bid for suicide to me. Ok, the EEC has its faults, but over a long period it has been a force for good and kept the peace in Europe since the end of WW2. Instead of moaning about it we should be in there as a major influence for improving and refining it.

    Our democratic system is flawed because the majority of our politicians are more concerned with retaining their seats rather than applying themselves constructively and without self interest to the above mentioned problems which need addressing on a much more pragmatic basis rather than political.

    We are desperately in need of altruistic and charismatic leadership that is capable of pulling together the various factions and rallying the silent majority, to which I think you refer, to address our problems on a long term basis rather than cringing about the results of the next general election.


  2. Hi Conrad, thanks for your comment. I think you probably hit the nail on the head with “long term basis” – something which seems almost alien to us. Health, transport, education, energy all need to be the subject of long-term strategies designed to endure well beyond the life of this parliament, the next, and the one after that. Decades of tinkering, interspersed with the regular tear it all up and start again approach have led us to the situation you describe above; I know your daughter sees the effects at very close quarters.

    Thanks again


  3. Well I’m not sure if it was cathartic for you writing this but it was cathartic for me to read both your posts and yours and Conrads comments. I don’t think I could have written that any better or any closer to the same words and sentiments. Perhaps the three of us can affect change. The new Blog-centrist party? It could work.
    Seriously, a great post and at least I no longer feel quite so alone in being stuck in the middle with you both 🙂


  4. Hi Andy, I seem to spend whole chunks of my life recently either shaking my head at the television or having an argument with the radio. This is not a healthy state of affairs.

    Hopefully getting it down in print will have acted as a safety valve; there’s only so many times you can allow yourself to get wound up by the same old stuff. Thanks for stopping by and I hope you are getting your share of decent early summer weather.


  5. Banging your head against wall gets painful after a while. I live in hope that your thought that the vast majority of people in the centre will regain some degree of representation but there are times when I despair.
    On a happier note May has been a cracking month and I’ve clocked up a fair few miles on the hills (and London) under blue skies. You check out my adventures on my blog (I’m nearly back up to date! All the best.


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