Monday 23 September 2013

No point in a centre party.

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In a recent, but unpublished, letter to the Guardian my friend Michael Meadowcroft, wrote: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.


  1. Neo-con is not an economic stance (at least in the US context where this term originated and is most used).. it is a foreign policy and defence stance...

    I believe what you refer to as neo-con as an economic stance is ironically known as neo-liberal economics!

  2. Yes, you're quite right. I just wince at the association of liberal, with this monetarist ideology which is anti-state and particularly anti welfare state (of which we Liberals are pioneers in the UK). So like the White Rabbit (is it?), I don;t feel obliged to follow the US definition, but regard "neocon" as meaning what I choose it to mean.

  3. These labels are largely meaningless in modern politics. 'Central' can be seen as 'moderate' or sitting on the fence.
    Left and right are now irrelevant in the context of coalition which implies consensus on major issues.
    It would be much more acceptable for Liberal Democrats to support a Labour coalition. At least this would escape 'neocon' economics and broken pledges on university fees.

  4. The Lib Dems are only a centrist party because in simplistic terms they are on the right for economic policies (Keynes) and on the left for social policies (Beveridge, who I met when I was a teenager).

    So Lib Dems are a centre party in the sense that the right and left defined positions average out.

    The Liberals have always been free market, Adam Smith and Maynard Keynes influenced. Keynes was all for spending public money when there is a recession bit would not have approve of a structural deficit such as we have now.

    The Liberal Party

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