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.
“the Left have moved to the extremes way more than the Right, at least in Britain”
“the Liberal Democrats are nowhere near the centre of British politics. They are stuck out on the far left”
“they [the Conservatives] will at some point in the near future pick a new leader and a new direction”
“Labour have no shot within the next decade at least and no one else is remotely close either.”
If we can deal with material reality here, it is the Right, not the Left that where extremism is most manifest, because they are putting their right wing extremism into practice. Currently it infects the UK Government. You may suppose that similar would transpire with the Left. You could be right, I doubt it though, because a left wing government, even if it could achieve a majority (it cannot) would find that it lacked the resources.
Perhaps you believe that Labour really would go down the path of Venezuela or Zimbabwe, in which case it is bizarre to claim the Lib Dems are indistinguishable from Labour. It is as though you think that all those braying internet warriors who slate the Lib Dems as Quislings, who no one should ever vote for are actually representative of the Liberal Democrat Party.
You say that there is no one remotely close to being an effective leader in Labour, but fail to recognise the situation is worse amongst the Conservatives. Who on earth do you have in mind? Even if there were such a person, not in thrall to Brexit, not an inmate of the Right, he or she would be no nearer to leadership than Hillary Benn is in the Labour Party.
because they are putting their right wing extremism into practice
Examples? Currently the Conservative government is doing two things: Leaving the EU, and Universal Credit. It’s doing both of them badly, but neither is exactly ‘right-wing extremism’ (I don’t think you can claim a policy that was supported by 52% of the electorate is ‘extreme’). Despite the cries of Labour, they haven’t actually abolished the NHS, for example. (They may have made moves to ‘privatise the NHS’ in the sense of getting private contractors in to provide NHS services, that that’s not right-wing extremism, it’s in fact a pretty centrist pragmatic policy, and if you ask people most of them don’t care whether their treatment is provided by a private company or not provide it’s good quality and free).
You say that there is no one remotely close to being an effective leader in Labour, but fail to recognise the situation is worse amongst the Conservatives
Labour has several MPs who could be an effective leader, but the point is that under the current rules, with the current membership, none of them could get into that position. Indeed the very qualities that would make them an effective leader are what make it impossible for them to ever be leader.
Within the Conservatives, though, even if there isn’t anybody obvious (though Sajid Javid is clearly making a pitch, could conceivably win it, and would probably be quite effective, though he does have a huge disadvantage in that he is bald and voters do not like making bald men PM) there are a bunch of lower-profile, new-generation MPs anyone of whom could turn out to be a talent: and if they do then they could easily ascend to the top in a way which would be impossible for a talented and non-insane Labourite.