Nick Clegg seems fond of anchoring the Liberal Democrats firmly in "the centre." It's true that some voters, and possibly focus groups, speculate vaguely about a non-extremist party that somehow contains the best of the others without the worst bits. But on serious examination such centre ground, if it does exist, is not an ideal place for a party to position itself, and certainly not one to enthuse its activists.
In effect anchoring ourselves to "the centre" allows our opponents to define us, and there is a sense in which this has happened. As neocon "market forces rule OK" economics has become fashionable, adopted by the Tories and imitated by New labour, we have allowed ourselves to be over-influenced by our "Orange Book" tendency and followed suit. How much better, and today more relevant, had we stuck to our Keynesian and Beveridgean credentials.
In a recent, but unpublished, letter to the Guardian my friend Michael Meadowcroft, wrote:
"The mythical 'centre-ground' simply does not exist. It is a mirage that parties regular chase after in vain. If it is intended to denote some gap between two major parties purporting to be on the Left and Right then it has the deeply unattractive attribute of depending entirely on how those parties shift around day by day. No self-respecting party should ever abdicate defining its political position for itself.
"There is, however, a much more formidable reason for rejecting any concept of a 'centre' position. The whole idea of 'Left' and 'Right' comes to us from the seating arrangements of the French revolutionary assembly and has only ever defined attitudes to economic control. Liberals historically have always rejected this as being a highly partial and inhuman definition of the kind of society we want.
In a letter which was published (19 September) Michael spelt out succinctly what we're all about (and why Labour is not a suitable vehicle for our beliefes.)
"Labour has always been economically determinist, centralist and hegemonic. Political liberalism is precisely the opposite, supporting human values, devolution and pluralism." (my emphsis)
How I wish our leaders would take notice.