Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Centrism is bust


A recent political trend seems to be for comfortably well off people to pine for what they call political centrism

In this article I'm going to expose centrism as the busted political myth that is way beyond its sell by date.

Gary Lineker


I quite like the football pundit and crisps-salesman Gary Lineker for the fact that he's been willing to put his head above the parapet to defend refugees and speak out in favour of human rights (provoking tides of right-wing social media abuse in the process), but when it comes to his recent Twitter call for a rejuvenation of centrist politics, he's absolutely wrong because centrism is totally bust.
In his Tweet and subsequent comments Lineker failed to made it clear what he was arguing for (a Lib-Dem revival, the return of Blairism, a charismatic neoliberal Trojan Horse candidate like Emmanual Macron, something else entirely ...), but he definitely kicked a hornet's nest by saying what he did.

Historical context

The problem for centrism was always the extremely strong right-wing bias of the mainstream mediaFor the last four decades the billionaire propaganda barons have worked tirelessly to drag the political spectrum ever further towards the fanatical extreme-right. 

Most Tories have gleefully tracked ever further rightwards into the fanatical far-right territory that even Margaret Thatcher would never have tried to get away with (ideologically driven privatisation of the Royal Mail, thousands of publicly funded schools given away for free to unaccountable private sector interests, even vital components of the police service carved up and given away).

From the mid-1990s Labour also tracked hard to the right to chase the ever shifting "centre ground" meaning that they soon ended up occupying right-wing pro-privatisation economic territory that is actually way to the right of the economic stance of the Tory party between the early 1950s and the mid-1970s!

Looking at politics in any kind of sensible historical context makes it clear that Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party are the true centrists because they're trying to push the UK back towards the balance between capitalism and socialism that existed before the long march towards the fanatical hard-right was initiated in 1979, but as far as the bulk of the mainstream media are concerned, anything but adherence to the fanatical hard-right orthodoxy of neoliberalism is extremist thought crime.

What is and isn't "way left"


Jeremy Corbyn's policy of raising corporation tax back up to 26% in order to fund investments in infrastructure ans services isn't way left, unless you're the kind of hard-right Tory fruitcake who thinks that the United States is currently a fanatically left-wing socialist country because their corporation tax rate is more than double the 17% the Tories are planning to reduce the UK rate to, and who thinks Margaret Thatcher was an outright communist because corporation tax was 52% for the first three years of her reign, and never dipped below 34% under her rule.

Wanting British infrastructure and services like the rail network and national grid to be run by the British for the benefit of the British people (rather than being used as cash cows by foreign governments like China, Saudi Arabia, France, the Netherlands, Singapore, Oman, Germany, the UAE & Italy) isn't way left, it's common bloody sense.

Treating access to education as a benefit to the whole of society, rather than a commodity to be sold at the highest possible price so that graduates from English universities don't have to rack up enormous debts that 70% of them will never pay off despite a lifetime opportunity destroying 9% aspiration tax on their disposable income isn't way left, it's perfectly normal in the majority of other European countries (Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Netherlands, Scotland ...).

Wanting to reverse the Tory policy of building the fewest houses since the early 1920s and construct a new wave of affordable social housing in order to make owning a house more than a totally impossible fantasy for millions of under-40s isn't way left, it's the kind of sensible housing policy that has been so sorely lacking for the last four decades.

All Jeremy Corbyn wants to do is reverse some of the worst hard-right ideological vandalism that has been done to the UK since 1979, much of it under the centrist flag of New Labour between 1997 and 2010.

Publicly owned transport networks, postal services and energy distribution grids are commonplace in Europe. Free university education or low, affordable fees are commonplace in Europe. Corporation tax rates significantly higher than Corbyn's proposed 26% rate are commonplace in Europe. Sensible housing policies are commonplace in Europe. Wages that actually rise in real terms rather than shrink are commonplace in Europe.

Jeremy Corbyn isn't proposing anything radically far left, he's proposing policies with wide public appeal that are absolutely normal on the continent.

European context

A look at the fate of other socialist-turned-centrist parties across Europe gives an idea of what could well have lain in store for Labour had they refused to move away from right-wing neoliberal economic dogma and back towards traditional centre-left politics.

Pasok were the most successful party in post-dictatorship Greece having never polled less than 38% until 2011, but they signed their own death warrant when they decided to prop up their pro-austerity conservative rivals in 2012, and by 2015 they'd collapsed to below 5% of the vote, making them the 7th party in the Greek parliament.

In 2012 the Dutch Labour Party formed a centrist coalition with their hard-right conservative rivals and at the next election in 2017 they collapsed from 24.8% of the vote to 5.7%, reducing them from the second biggest party (by a whisker) to the 7th biggest party.

The warning signs are clear that socialist parties that abandon all traces of socialism in favour of pushing hard-right neoliberal dogma under the banner of centrism have no future.

British context

You don't even have to look outside the UK to see the damage that centrism has done to the traditional centre-left. You just have to look at the way the Blairites lost Scotland by pushing Tory-lite centrism onto the Scottish election well past its sell-by date.

Hawking hard-right economic dogma under the banner of centrism was the most popular political position for decades but it's gone badly out of fashion and resulted in Labour losing 40 of their 41 Westminster seats in Scotland.

The neoliberal orthodoxy dressed up as centrism is politically toxic, and everyone bar the Lib-Dems has now cottoned onto this fact.


The Tories have surged off into the more UKIP than UKIP fanatically right-wing ultra-nationalist territory to chase the burgeoning extreme-right demographic, Labour have moved back to their traditional centre-left stance and won back millions of voters in the process, and the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party all sit on the centre-left too.

The only party that hasn't shifted away from the centrist neoliberal orthodoxy are the Lib-Dems, and look at the paltry 7.5% share of the vote they bagged at the 2017 General Election.

If there was a genuine public appetite for centre-right economic policies dressed up as centrism than Ed Miliband would have won the 2015 General Election with Ed Balls' insipid and appallingly uninspiring prescription of "austerity lite".


If there was a genuine public appetite for right-wing economics dressed up as centrism in 2017, then the Lib-Dems would have surged back into contention, but their vote share actually declined even further from what most of us assumed to be their absolute nadir at the 2015 General Election.

Macron

A lot of people seem to imagine that the new French President Emmanuel Macron is some kind of moderate centrist, but the reality is that he's just more of the same neoliberalism dressed up as centrism who got a massive lucky break when his rival for the French Presidency was the Front National extremist Marine Le Pen.

Of course 
the former investment banker Macron looked like a moderate in comparison to the extreme-right fanaticism of Le Pen and the Front National, but Macron is a pro-corporate, anti-worker neoliberal to the core. 

His success in the lowest turnout French election in history is proof that the French prefer neoliberalism to fascism, but it also needs to be noted that record numbers were so disillusioned by the choice between hard-right and extreme-right that they simply didn't bother to vote at all.

Many British centrists who admire Macron's personality cult seem to be totally unaware that before he established En March√© (reflecting his own initials) he infiltrated the French Socialist party and destroyed it from within by implementing riot-inducing hard-right pro-corporate, anti-worker labour reforms, then walked out of the ruins to form his new centrist political party.

Of course you have to give Macron credit for his absolute audacity, but anyone who sees him as some kind of centre-ground moderate rather than a more of the same adherent of the hard-right neoliberal orthodoxy who rode a tide of political apathy into power is living in a total political fantasy world.

Apathy

One of the key components of centrism is political apathy, on which it thrives. 13 years of Labour Party centrism resulted in the four lowest general election turnouts since universal suffrage (2001, 2005, 2010, 2015) and an ever declining Labour Party share of the vote that only reversed in 2017 after Jeremy Corbyn defined Labour as an actual alternative.

The cause of this centrist apathy is obvious. If the electorate are presented with a choice of more of the same neoliberal orthodoxy under Labour, or another significant lurch to the hard-right under the Tories, millions of people who want an actual alternative to hard-right economics end up not bothering to vote at all.

The centrist myth is dead

Wrapping up hard-right neoliberal economic policies in a load of slick misleading spin and then parading them under the flag of centrism worked a treat for a while (1997 until the global financial crisis) but now that the devastating social and economic consequences of almost four unbroken decades of hard-right economics are becoming clearer and clearer, people are desperate for an actual alternative.

Tony Blair and Nick Clegg were the two UK politicians who made the biggest deals out of being centrists, and look at how they're reviled now for the way they subverted and betrayed the central ideologies of their own parties (democratic socialism & liberalism) in order to hawk hard-right neoliberal dogma.


The only remaining centrists are the people who have done perfectly well out of neoliberalism, financial sector deregulation, handouts for the mega-rich and austerity for the rest of us, housing market chaos, and privatisation mania thanks very much, and don't care about those of us who are faring much worse than they are.

They're alright Jack, so they only really want superficial tinkering to a fundamentally broken system that punishes the poor and ordinary with austerity dogma to fund lavish giveaways for the mega-rich; systematically abuses disabled people in disability denial factories; impoverishes 70% of university students from ordinary backgrounds for their entire working lives; and considers countries like Oman, China, Singapore, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates better custodians of British infrastructure than Britain itself. 


Of course centrists will try to kid anyone who is daft enough to listen to them that they're not fans of the hard-right neoliberal orthodoxy, but the fact that they oppose any real reversal of the four decade long rightward drift is evidence that they're not centre-ground, or progressive, or moderate at all. They just want to tread political water like Blair did, holding position more or less wherever the Tories leave us until whenever the Tories get back in and continue marching the nation towards the fanatical hard-right again.

Centrism doesn't really stand for anything or change anything. It just hopes to win power for power's sake by standing ever so slightly to the left of wherever the Tories are standing, no matter how far to the bonkers hard-right the Tories keep shifting.

Thankfully there is no real public appetite for this kind of deceptive apathy-inducing neoliberal con game any more because people can see through it.

If they want more fanatical hard-right dogma they can vote Tory, if they want a recalibration away from it they can vote Labour, SNP, Plaid Cymru or Green, and if they're genuinely not tired of the centrism con game yet they can do like the vast majority of us didn't and vote for the Lib-Dems. 

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