Thursday 10 August 2017

Five Reasons Why a New Centre Party is a Stupid Idea

It's truly silly season if talk of a new centre party is abroad yet again. James Chapman, ex-Daily Mail and former office boss in David Davis's Department for Exiting the European Union sparked off the latest chittery-chattery in a series of pointed posts on yours and mine's favourite social media outlet. He said Boris Johnson should be banged up for his moronic £350m/week pledge to fund the NHS, and took several gormless ministers to task about how Brexit is affecting their briefs. Of more interest is his desire for a new 'Democratic Party' that would seek to overturn the result of last year's referendum. No cheap shots on the incongruence between the name and the reluctance to accept a democratic decision, please.

Unfortunately for "Chappers" his new party fantasy is just that. It might be a dream he shares with Tony Blair, the Jolyon scene and "very interesting people", but it's the pantomime gesturing of a political elite left out of sorts by the post-referendum, post-election landscape. It appears superficially similar to what went before, but try as they may the new world rebels against them. Nothing underlines this confusion more than their stubborn, centre party meme. Here then for the umpteenth time are five reasons why it won't work and cannot work.

Show me the money, show me the money, show me the mon-ey
There was talk before the election, at least according to gossip relayed by The Mail, of Tony Blair lining up donors to fund a new centre outfit should Labour badly lose but Jeremy Corbyn stay on. Since then, nothing. Lord Sainsbury, the normal "secretive billionaire" go-to for political money has decided that charidee alone will now benefit from his largesse. And there are no other takers. According to Private Eye, Blair even tried touching Brexit-supporting ex-Labour donor John Mills for moolah. You can imagine the conversation didn't go well. The problem with rich donors is they expect a return as they would with any other investment. That His Blairness, now worth a reputed £60m give or take, isn't stumping up the readies says everything you need to know.

Absent friends
What MP is going to be tempted by a new centrist party? Apparently Chuka Umunna had one on the launch pad and ready to go, and then the electorate spoiled everything and awarded Labour its largest vote for 20 years. How thoughtless of them. Now, while Chuka might needle Corbyn over Brexit and sundry others cause mischief about Venezuela and the like, no one is about to tender their resignations for an unproven force. The same applies to annoyed Cameroons such as Nicky Morgan and Anna Soubry. The one thing most MPs want is ... to remain MPs. Would anyone out of step with their respective parties want to go to the electorate with 'Democrats', 'Spring' or some other meaningless appellation and have someone else stand under the Tory or Labour banner? No. Simon "800 votes" Danczuk helpfully rendered his former colleagues a service by offering a vision of their potential futures should they be tempted to jump ship.

Generals without an army
Party members can be very annoying. They badger parliamentarians in their constituency/association meetings, bang on about issues no one cares about and sometimes have the temerity to want a degree of collective control over their party. Yet party members are a necessity too. You must have people to fill candidate vacancies in local elections, folks who'll speak to punters on the doors, on stalls, at work and in all the social settings they inhabit. Someone has to deliver the leaflets. Who then are going to do this for a new centre party? Though they're not going anywhere, let's have a brief look at the standard bearer of the self-described centre politics in Labour. That would be our friends Progress, and they're bust. The sugar daddy has left them high and dry, and an attempts to infuse new blood to keep them attractive has failed. Turnout in their recent round of strategy board elections finds just 50 young members, and 2,500 members in total. In short, a body not much larger than Britain's principal Trotskyist outfits and, I would wager, with considerably fewer activists. If Progress is the most likely feeder for a new party from Labour, what about the Tories? They're hardly overflowing with members and, if anything, their base is getting more right wing as all the kippers come back. The Cameroons did not have a numerous grassroots cadre to fall back on either. Might a new party attract people presently uninterested in politics? Unlikely, because ...

Dissolve the people and elect another
The electorate aren't in the market for a new centre party. The election result squeezed the smaller parties severely - even the SNP weren't immune and are likely to be less resilient in future. On the one side the Tories have stacked up a coalition of classes and class fractions in long-term decline, which means they are too. Labour on the other hand are presently benefiting from changes to the class composition of British capitalism, which accounts for how it is managing to win over middle class strata and the most exploited and marginalised. The election result was polarised because politics is now in line with the real polarisation taking place beneath the froth of official society. Our self-described centrists, our Blairists and Cameroons do not and cannot understand this because their privilege inoculates them against conceiving of the world as anything other than the shilly-shallying of fellow elites. Sadly for them, the realities of the new class politics is no respecter of ideological illusions. The real asserts itself whether you recognise it or not.

The only centre party in the (Westminster) village
All talk of a new centre party has an element of unreality about it, because there already is a centre party. The Liberal Democrats are hardly in the rudest health, but they're not doing too badly considering how the tectonics of politics are shifting. They now have in excess of 100,000 members, they made a modest advance in the election, and while their polling is rubbish local council by-elections are returning okay results. Not on the scale of their surge in the 12 months leading up to this year's council elections but respectable enough. What can a new party offer that the LibDems can't already, especially as they're now doubling down on a second referendum on the Brexit deal? Tony Blair and "celebrity" newspaper columnists? Please.

A new centre party is a stupid idea in defiance of political realities. But the people touting it are so disoriented by British politics that them seeing through this absurdity cannot be ruled out.


Anonymous said...

A Warning From History. We had not one, but two centrist parties within living memory, and they formed the SDP-Lib Dem alliance. And achieved the square root of fuck all apart from keeping Thatcher in office. Part of New Labour's "Operation Hoover" in the run-up to the 1997 GE was to effect a merger with the Lib Dems. Of course, once he realised he had a historic majority, Blair stiffed Ashdown good and proper.

But now he wants to stuff Corbyn, you can bet Blair wants to lead a cavalry charge of Blue Labour deadbeats into the hallowed middle ground and finish the destruction of traditional Labour that he thought he had achieved from 1994 onward.

It's pointless coming up with rational arguments about why this is a bad idea. Blair is not rational. His vision of his political legacy is under threat, and his ego cannot allow that to happen. If anything, the fact that his main legacy looks like being Iraq will actually focus his energies on killing Old Labour rather than subdue them.

Anonymous said...

(Mistake in the preceding, caused by automatic typing circuits in brain: The Alliance of the 1980s was SDP-Liberal, and the subsequently-merged party was renamed the Lib Dems.)

Anonymous said...

Main problem with this idea is blare, he's a blue shirt and an egotistical bull shitter