Is it time to leave the centre?

Image: Garry Knight

Image: Garry Knight

Political campaigns once targeted their efforts towards a broad audience.

Even traditionally radical parties used to pander to the public opinion of Middle England. However, with a more left-wing leader of the opposition and a near-obliteration of the more central Lib-Dems, the importance of the centreground in British politics is being reassessed by all sides of the political landscape. Things are shaping up to be different.

David Cameron made a speech at the Conservative conference in Manchester urging his ministers to position the party on the “common ground”.
In many ways, most of what Cameron has achieved as prime minister has been aimed at the golden mean of politics. The promises of a higher minimum wage and increased home ownership reflect this.

At the very least, the Conservatives have mitigated their more right-wing policies to appeal to a centreground audience. For example, in January of this year, Cameron announced tax cuts of £7bn and pushed them as a reward for the British people.Tony Blair defined the centreground. In 1997, the Labour party won a landslide election under his leadership.
The focus of this campaign was on a Third Way approach to politics. Blair called it a “modernised social democracy”. It dragged Labour out of an 18 year long string of election defeats retaining some of the powerful Labour ideologies while appealing to the middle classes.
The Labour party’s approach to the 2015 election was very different. Calls were made for Ed Miliband to champion the centre-ground but the party drove on with its convoluted approach that was neither overtly centre-ground nor left-wing enough to be deemed radical. That approach clearly failed.

Blair spoke out in the Guardian just after Labour’s election defeat this year claiming that “the route to the summit lies through the centre-ground”.The only way for Labour to get back on its feet, according to Blair, is to become a party of the middle-ground yet again. However, as evidenced by Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader, Blair’s advice has already been ignored. The party that first championed the supposed middle-ground have seemingly abandoned it.

The 2015 election was, in some ways, a battle between two parties, both desperate to appeal to the desires of Middle England. Yet there is a third party who have always sat somewhere near the middle of British politics.The Liberal Democrats’ party website claims that only they can “anchor Britain to the centre-ground”. Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has continued this approach by appealing to both Labour and Conservative supporters in the “massive space in the centre-ground”.Farron and his party may be the last centrists but they have little support left to revive that position.

The centre-ground has become less relevant to British politics. Parties are opting for more principled approaches to policy. They want to be seen as strong and trustworthy.However, they’re still mitigating their policies for a broader appeal. Middle England may live on, for now.

Leave a comment