Is The New Centrist Party a “Daft Waste of Time”?

Mattha Busby
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A new political party has been given £50m to try and claim the centre ground of British politics, but can it attract voters?

Reasonable people all across the UK believe that some things just aren’t reasonable anymore – falling real incomes, rising homelessness, and our exit from the EU – but the radical alternative offered by Labour is anathema to their sensibilities. The masses are crying out for some moderation.

Enter stage left: a consortium of millionaire centrist Dads to wrest the UK back from the clutches of the ruinous Brexiteers, who might just nause it up and hand power to an ardent socialist intent on destroying our hallowed land.

The catch? Cardigan-wearing, Shire-dwelling remoaning liberals already have the Liberal Democrats, and the UK’s First Past the Post voting system will never directly translate votes to seats. A new party of the centre may only serve to split the Cardigan vote even further.

So is the UK’s planned new centrist party, flash with a £50m war chest registered under the name Project One Movement and a bold promise to break the Westminster mould, ‘a daft waste of time’?

A polling station in London. Photo by secretlondon123

A daft waste of time?

Andrew Adonis, a Labour peer closely associated with Tony Blair, and who cannot be accused of Corbynite sympathies, told The Guardian: “Labour and the Labour movement is the only means to defeat Brexit and bring about a radical reforming government. Believe me, I was a founder member of the SDP: it failed and we can’t fail this time, the stakes for the country are too high”.

In 1983, perhaps the last time Westminster politics were so polarised, Michael Foot’s socialist manifesto, the ‘longest suicide note in history’, was passed over for the party of Thatcherism, who won in a landslide.

Had the Gang of Four not broken away from Labour and formed the Social Democratic Party, who along with the Liberal Party amassed almost as many votes as Labour, then the Conservatives may not have been able to form a majority government.

Jon Trickett, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, echoed Adonis’ scepticism, tweeting: “A new political party with £50m in the kitty, no members, no rule book, no ideology. Perhaps with support from sections of the British Establishment. A plaything for the rich?”

“Let’s focus on the task in hand: building a social movement which will change our country for good.”

David Miliband, former Labour MP. Photo by Chatham House

Centrist saviours

With Britain standing closer to the hammer and sickle of socialism than ever before, is this not the time for unity among Labour donors?

Clearly, however, revitalising the centre ground is a more pressing concern for donor-in-chief Simon Franks, the founder of LoveFilm and Ed Miliband’s business advisor when he was leader.

Imagine if Britain’s stale political parties, dogged by their checkered pasts’ yet entrenched in certain parts of the country, were swept away in an electrifying wave of optimism as David Miliband, revamped into some sort of British Emmanuel, surfs a wave of discontent across the Atlantic back to Brexitland.

This could be good for democracy, theoretically.

(Note: Tony Blair is playing no part but his son, Euan Blair, is on the board, and everyone is free to borrow ideas from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change)

Changing colours? Nick Clegg (pictured) hasn’t ruled out joining a new centrist party. Photo by The Liberal Democrats

Lib Dem rebrand?

Most vocal in their support for this new party are, in fact, the Liberal Democrats! Rebrand, anyone?

The former Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Nick Clegg, says it’s “highly likely” a new party will form to fill the “gaping hole” in the centre.

“I am relatively un-tribal,” the politician who put his own politics aside to enable deep austerity cuts in 2010 told the BBC. “But I personally have always felt that liberal values are more important than which particular vehicle is carrying them at any particular time.”

“I think other people – whether it’s liberals or liberal Conservatives should always be open to doing what they think is right and consistent with their values rather than being high bound by whatever political tribe they are in.”

The pro-EU march from Hyde Park to Westminster in London in March 2017. Photo by Ilovetheeu

Can this prevent Brexit?

The Stop Brexit mission goes on apace. One of the central ambitions of a new centrist party would likely be to stop Brexit, but a recent poll by ComRes found that two-thirds of Britons agree that ‘the result of the referendum should be respected and the country needs to move on’.

Up to a third of people just can’t, though.

Former Liberal Democrat leader, Paddy Ashdown, was also quick to weigh in with his support on Twitter. “New centre Party? Nick Clegg spot on on BBC Today. This is not a time for the Centre to be tribal. If the modern moderates can find their voice like En Marche we all have to be part of that. Lib Dems included.”

The liberal commentariat expressed cautious support too.

“The opportunity exists for a new party, but it would be a massive gamble,” writes the Observer’s Andrew Rawnsley. “What is so far lacking is a critical mass of MPs prepared to take the large risks involved in making it happen.”

So what is this new thing? A Lib Dem proxy that’s just a rouse to reclaim Sheffield Hallam, a “play thing for the rich”, an establishment plot to stop Corbyn, or a sincere attempt to remould the centre ground? You decide.

 

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