Politics is becoming increasingly polarised. Now, more than ever, we need centrist politics to heal a divided nation.
In the wake of the EU referendum it has become clear that radical and unpredictable political movements are gaining momentum and gradually eclipsing their moderate, centrist rivals.
If we flashback to 20 years ago when New Labour was becoming increasingly popular due to Blair’s centrist revisionism, the political scene would be barely recognisable. After nearly two decades of arguably radical neo-liberal governments, the nation’s overwhelming desire for a moderate alternative triumphed. Blair’s Third Way policies of progressive taxation, affordable tuition fees and improved education struck a chord with many disenchanted British voters and shifted the political balance from the right to left-of-centre When we compare the Britain of 1996 to the Britain of 2016 the differences are stark. Gone are the days of pragmatism and triangulation; now replaced by radical far right and far left ideals and dogmatic politicians such as Nigel Farage.
However, this new wave of political radicalism has a dark side which many of its ambassadors – Paul Nuttall and Douglas Carswell for instance – seek to disguise in populist rhetoric.
Boris Johnson fought Vote Leave’s referendum campaign with the promise that Britain would be able to “take back control” and limit immigration whilst continuing to reap the economic benefits of free trade we receive whilst in the EU. But these promises were only the tip of the iceberg. More radical characters such as Nigel Farage used the referendum campaign to exacerbate tensions within the main political parties and cause division in areas with high rates of immigration. By dividing the Westminster parties, the radical thinkers hope that an opening will emerge for their anti-establishment policies and a new kind of politics will prevail. However, this “new kind of politics” is divisive and xenophobic.
Take a look at the picture below which Nigel Farage unveiled in the closing days of the EU referendum campaign. This piece of propaganda from the Leave side epitomises how the far right transitioned from an occasional comment of veiled racism to full-frontal prejudice. Syrian refugees are fleeing a conflict caused by radical authoritarians, only to be met by bigotry when they reach Europe. Mr Farage and other such unsavoury characters monopolised on the previously suppressed opinions of the far right and used this emerging platform to create a nation of division and intolerance; this is where the need for a viable centrist alternative comes in.
Centrist politics is deemed by many on the far right and far left to be a breeding ground for career politicians and excessive pragmatism. However, when one takes a closer look at the centre ground of British politics it becomes clear that this is not the case.
David Cameron’s resignation speech exemplified everything that has gone wrong in British politics in the last few years. Many believed Cameron to be a career politician whose privileged background and ruthless ambition catapulted him to the top. But the break in his voice when he delivered his speech and the lines “I held nothing back… I made it clear that the referendum was about this and this alone… I love this country and I feel honoured to have served it,” prove that the far right have quashed the genuine efforts of centrists to make Britain a better place. Cameron’s emphasis on “enabling those who love each other to get married whatever their sexuality” and “increasing people’s life chances” highlighted how centrism is not just the politics of elections, but the politics of egalitarianism and social prosperity.
When Cameron’s speech is compared to some of Farage’s comments on immigration it is painstakingly clear that centrism is the best option to heal our divided nation. In 2014, in response to the question “what sort of people should be allowed to migrate to Britain”, he replied “People who do not have HIV, to be frank. That’s a good start. And people with a skill.” This comment adds to the notion that radical politics is divisive as Farage almost explicitly suggested that people suffering from HIV are unskilled and thus unwelcome in the UK. Although an entirely unfounded comment, to an already Eurosceptic person this remark would only serve to further entrench anti-immigration sentiment and lead to a more fractious nation.
Radical far-left politics is also a recipe for polarity. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party should have reaped the electoral benefits of a divided Conservative Party in the wake of the EU referendum; however Corbyn’s divisive politics and inability to lead and control discontented MPs shifted the media focus away from the fractious Tories and on to his own party. The success of the vote of no confidence motion against Corbyn by 172-40 emphasises the polarising qualities of democratic socialism and reaffirms that centrism is even more necessary at times of division. As with the far-right, the far-left is a place of rooted ideology and, put frankly, stubbornness. Jeremy Corbyn, despite failing to attract the confidence of his MPs, refuses to step down as leader and thus continues to cause rifts in his party. His obstinate determination to pursue contentious policies such as a National Maximum Wage and unilateral nuclear disarmament are creating a Labour Party riddled with schisms and on the path towards election annihilation.
Stuck in the Middle with You
One-Nation Conservatism, Blairism and Progressive Liberalism are not perfect but they are the only ideologies which can unite the country following this referendum rather than worsen pre-existing divisions. Those who campaigned to remain are not without their flaws and the scaremongering conducted during the last four months was unnecessary and unhelpful.
However, now that the referendum result has been decided, we must work to make the best of it; we need politicians who will reunite the country and promote stability and equality. If the Brexit campaigners take control of the Conservative Party, radical politics will prevail and Britain will become a disunited kingdom. Similarly, if Corbyn continues to lead Labour, the Opposition will continue to split and become increasingly fractious. To prevent this from happening the centre ground of British politics must harness the support of the 75 per cent of 18-24 year olds who voted to remain and use their accepting and internationalist views to suppress the rise of radicalism.
The future of the UK outside of the European Union is uncertain but if we let those with radical and divisive views take control of our country rather than moving back towards the path of centrism, the future is likely to be a far less inclusive and united place.