Perhaps the biggest theme of this era across the West is that politics has become completely polarised; that Left and Right have gone to further extremes, with the Centre being ignored by the electorate. I’m going to try and explain here, in the simplest terms I can, why this happened. Again, I will be simplifying for the purpose of brevity – there is loads of complexity in all this, but it’s time to stop using that as an excuse. Maybe a boiling down of the basic issues is what is required.
From the end of the Second World War until very recently, there was a trajectory to where we were all headed, at least in the West. The free market was essential and could not be done away with; when you did that you ended up with the USSR, or worse, the Killing Fields. But the free market, as key as it is, can’t do everything by itself, and more to the point, leave gaps; things that society needs but are not profitable, or at least, relatively easily profitable. So, the way forward, clearly, was a mixed economy. The free market as a basis but with the add on of the state filling in the gaps where needed.
Now, despite all this talk about the polarisation of politics, this is where the vast majority of people in Britain still are. Think about it: what percentage of people in Britain want to retain the NHS yet think having a relatively free market is important? It is almost certainly extremely high. Yet the main national parties, both of whom spent at least two decades chasing the centre vote, have decided that being more politically extreme is the way to electoral success. Brexit is the main reason for this on the Right, but it is, I believe, a terrible misreading of the Leave vote, which was much more of a reaction to political stasis. The effect of the vote to leave the EU resulting in even more political stasis has made the situation even worse.
To be fair, the Left have moved to the extremes way more than the Right, at least in Britain. While the Right still makes sounds about wanting to maintain a large tent, the Left in Britain has decided that anyone to the right of Trotsky should join the Conservative party. This has come at a price, however: can anyone tell me what the British Right stands for these days? I really don’t get it. We had John Redwood in the House of Commons last night talking about why Brexit is so vital using language the most bleeding heart lefty would find a bit wet; all talk about how we need to save the hospitals and the like. Is the Conservative party still the party of small state, low spending, low tax? Doesn’t seem like it. Is it even the party of business? You don’t need to bring up the infamous Boris quote to know how far even this has drifted away from being a certainty.
Yet it’s worth taking time here to wonder what the Left actually stands for as well. It’s gone further left, we all accept that, but what does that mean in real terms apart from trying to shun non-believers? Basically, the Left has the same problem as the Right, when you reduce it down to the simplest possible terms: neither want to do things the old way, but have no new ideas whatsoever. The Left deals with this by trying to rinse clean old, very bad ideas like proper socialism and hope everyone thinks they sound great now, particular with a pitch to a younger generation for whom the Cold War might as well be the First World War, or the Napoleonic Wars for that matter. The Right deals with this problem by being a vague blob, stuck together with things that are supposedly of a temporary nature – Brexit being only the prime example.
This is why a party that could actually talk to where the centre of politics is at present would be way ahead in the polls and on course for victory in the next general election. And before any of you say “But what about the Lib Dems? They aren’t anywhere in the polls”, I have said it before and I’ll repeat it here: the current incarnation of the Liberal Democrats are nowhere near the centre of British politics. They are stuck out on the far left with both Labour and the Greens. Their appeal to Middle England is zero, for reasons that are easily understood and have nothing whatsoever to do with Brexit.
The party that looks like it could recapture the centre of British politics again is, weirdly enough, the Conservatives. Not because they are particularly close at the moment, but because they will at some point in the near future pick a new leader and a new direction, combined with the fact that you have a party that wants to win beyond anything else. Labour have no shot within the next decade at least and no one else is remotely close either. Perhaps the blob-like shape of the Right over the past few years was a coping mechanism. Time will tell.