Up until the EU referendum result hit in June 2016, some level of centrism, loosely defined, was considered to be a political necessity for any party wishing to govern. Labour had picked Corbyn as leader and it was assumed by almost every political pundit that this would prove to be an electoral disaster (they were proven right, eventually). Cameron had managed to get a parliamentary majority by a partial emulation in some respects – at least presentationally – of New Labour. Heading to the extremes was considered political suicide and this was a truism to which everyone in Westminster who wasn’t either on the far left or the far right fringes of their parties adhered.
Then came the EU referendum result and everything was flipped upside down. All political wisdom was questioned. In some ways this was both natural and even good – assumptions had become lazy, leading us to be blind to the Leave vote coming our way. But it just as soon developed into a whole new set of assumptions that in many ways were even more flawed than the old ones had become. People who self-identify as “communist” as well as people who think leaving the EU was good because it meant no Muslims could come to the country were suddenly treated very seriously by mainstream media outlets, as if these idiots had some point that was worth listening to. This was done partly in the name of balance but also in a chase for ratings: if people were way more politically extreme than we had imagined, perhaps there are whole audiences out there to tap into!
I recall when Nick Griffin was on Question Time in 2009 and the heated debate at the time about whether having him on a BBC show was a good idea or not. In one corner, the argument that putting him on the BBC conferred upon him and his racist party legitimacy; in the other, the idea that having him on to say stupid things would expose how awful he and his ideology were and deflate the BNP bubble. Yet almost no one at all was arguing that Nick Griffin had a serious point or represented a voice that legitimate concerns. Flash forward ten years and the BBC thinks nothing of putting a far right campaigner in the audience to ask a very dodgy question.
On the left, there has been way too much tolerance of the far left, particularly by the soft left. It’s like what we see in conservative circles: yes, these people are extreme in many ways, but perhaps they do have a point we should be listening to. The time has come to stop this behaviour – to halt the acceptance of far left and far right lunacy as something to be seriously considered. I’m not talking about censorship – I was amongst those who felt that putting Griffin on QT was a good idea in 2009 as it would expose his stupidity – I’m just saying we need to all come to our senses a little bit and stop indulging racists and tankies as if they had important things of note to say. We need to stop chasing balance in the name of common sense.
I think this is particularly true since I think at least 80% of people in Britain are not extreme politically at all and fit vaguely into centre-left, centre-right or politically neutral. I think that because of the 52% vote to leave the EU we just assumed everyone was much more different than they are politically and made a lot of assumptions that turned to bullshit upon contact. It is time to return to giving sensible centre-left and centre-right politics the time of day and stop giving so much credibility to the loony fringes.
In a few weeks time, I have another book coming out. It’s called “Politics is Murder” and follows the tale of a woman named Charlotte working at a failing think tank who has got ahead in her career in a novel way – she is a serial killer. One day, the police turn up at her door and tell her she is a suspect in a murder – only thing is, it is one she had nothing to do with. The plot takes in Conservative Party conference, a plot against the Foreign Secretary and some gangsters while Charlotte tries to find out who is trying to frame her for a murder she didn’t commit.
Also: there is a subplot around the government trying to built a stupid bridge, which now seems a charming echo of a more innocent time!
It’s out on April 9th, but you can pre-order here: