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President Macron of France: A suitable role-model for UK politics?
So, the Observer newspaper reports with confidence and gusto and that the pieces are falling into place for a major new centrist party – hitherto lurking like a submarine in the political waters. It’s just a question of when to launch, according to “sources.” Oh yes, that and having any presence at a local level, any activists, any traction.
It some ways, this front page splash is not a surprise. The Conservatives are well to the right of their historical position on the policy spectrum, and consumed by internal division – over Brexit primarily. Labour are steadfastly to the left: Corbyn’s electoral success (in the the party and in the country), and the subsequent growth in membership means that is not going to change any time soon. But there too are divisions and tensions. The anti-Semitism row is the latest iteration of that.
The traditional keepers of the centrist flame, the LibDems are in nowheresville – still effectively ostracised by voters for perceived ineptitude and weakness when in (coalition) government.
Thus you can see how some feel there is space, as it were, in the middle, for a new party. But feeling there is space and being effectively able to fill it are two entirely different things. And, of course, we have been here before, with the SDP in the early 1980s.
It’s also not a surprise because the Observer and some of its columnists, seems to have become disappointingly hostile to Labour, and to Corbyn in particular. The lead in today’s edition is arguably just this week’s “have a go” at the leadership. (Although Andrew Rawnsley’s comment piece in the same edition is fair enough.)
If we look at the substance, such as it is, of the article, there is also cause for scepticism: The sub-heading talks of “breaking the mould of UK politics.” Oh please!
Quite apart from the distinctly non-breaking-the-mould precedent of the SDP, there’s the question of “what is the problem we are trying to fix?” If the rationale for a new party is that our existing ones are not fit for purpose, don’t we need to ask why that is the case, before adding to the list of allegedly failing organisations?
We have a range of social, economic and political issues that are unprecedented, dangerous and disorientating. Old and established ways of doing things don’t seem to be able to offer a solution. What we arguably need is fresh, outside-the-box thinking, not an attempt to re-establsh a centrist party around a consensus that simply doesn’t exist anymore.
It’s like a trying to find a parking place, in a crowded car park, when we already have too many of this type of vehicle.
And so, finally, to the obvious contemporary comparator: Macron and the En Marche movement in France. The French President’s victory in last year’s elections was indeed remarkable, as much for its organisation as its policies. Being pitted against a very right-wing rival no doubt helped. His administration was going to break the mould as well, remember, but it is self-evidently proving harder to govern than get elected.
I’m neither holding my breath, nor my head in my hands. I don’t believe a new party offers anything, well, new. And I don’t see mould-breaking on its radar.
There are holes, like Swiss cheese, in our political landscape that could do with filling-in: Why are we not seriously talking about tax reform, a new voting system, and constitutional matters? Why can we not even have a rational, evidence-based debate on Brexit? These things all matter, but will any of them will be fixed by this Goldilocks* top-down politics, however much dosh and good intention is behind it? I doubt it.
*not too much of this, not too much of that