UK General Elections: Reconfiguring The Politics of The Centre
As one of my correspondents accurately pointed out, responding my earlier post on UK General Elections, one big loser on the 8th June was Centrist politics. The Labour Party, under a now secured Mr Corbyn, is likely to move further to the Left, just as the now insecure Theresa May, living on the support of the reactionary DUP, is likely to move further to the right. The Blairite domination, which moved the Labour Party to the Centre is well and truly over, and the Compassionate Conservatism of Cameron is now a distant memory.
As someone who celebrates the end of Careerist politics, I should perhaps welcome this. But I acknowledge Centrist Politics is more than just a Careerist ploy. At a time when Britain faces existential questions - and the Post-War World System is endangered - the ability of politicians work with each other is crucial; polarisation of politics does not help in these circumstances. And, besides, it is perhaps time to revisit the categories of Right and Left, as the issues facing Estates General in 1789 were very different from what we, facing a world of intelligent machines, financial integration and unprecedented climate challenges, have to deal with. Ideology, as it was conceived in the long Nineteenth century, may not have the answers when we don't even really know what is at stake.
On a more practical context, and despite the reconfiguration of UK Politics, however, there are many people for whom Centrist policies have more to offer. The current political conversation, working along the dividing lines of Right and Left, presents the issues in a discreet fashion: Do I care for NHS or not? Do I want Lower Taxes? What's my view on immigration? Am I a Remainer or a Leaver? etc. There is nothing wrong in discussing these issues, but focusing individually on one or the other undermines the connection between the big questions at hand. If I want a functional NHS at an affordable cost to the exchequer, do I not need more immigration? If I look for more social cohesion and ethnic minorities better integrated, should I not prefer state schools to work better? If I think the Government finances to be more robust, should we not be talking about a reasonable tax structure? Despite being very aware of the interconnectivity of the world, and interdependence of the issues, we commit ourselves to hard, purist and absurd stances. In short, we keep replaying the old politics hoping that it would come up with new answers.
Given this context, Liberal Democrats could offer that balancing platform that we need. The party is recovering from the friendly assassination by David Cameron. In fact, the Lib Dem experience in the Coalition government is both a model of centrism and its potential pitfall. However, with careerism receding, the Party now may find that there is a political space of public conversation, and one can create a viable political alternative without necessarily being in the Government or leading the opposition. The outcome of the election may lead to a hollowing of the political centre, but the mandate in itself - the desertion of the UKIP and SNP by the voters, for example - was a mandate for centrist politics.
The Lib Dems, who recovered some seats (and lost a key one), ran on a poorly conceived idea of reversing Brexit. The one problem Liberals always had is their patronising approach to the people: Sure enough, they were offering 'the people' a chance to reverse their mistake. Indeed, no one cared sufficiently about having another referendum, tired as the electorate is with this annual election calendar. And, besides, by focusing themselves on Brexit, a specific issue, the Lib Dems missed the great opportunity of pointing out the big mistakes of other political parties - that we need a joined up approach instead of piecemeal solutions.
I am hoping that in the coming days, with Tory politics splitting itself up (the Scottish Tories and DUP being perpetually in battle with one another), this new politics of public conversation will open up. Hopefully, the Lib Dems would develop a better appreciation of their opportunity to create a politics of public conversations. I look forward to those interesting times.