Centrism is the only way forward on the political spectrum
“I hold liberal opinions on some issues and I hold conservative opinions on others” - why this is NOT political centrism!
In this article, I'll explain what lies behind my political centrism and why I believe it's the optimal environment to create a happier, fairer Britain and world.
PS. Please sign up for our newsletter to receive the latest Project Lifejacket articles every week in your inbox.
What is centrism?
Back when I was growing up, the popular caricature of political centrism was best encapsulated by jokes about the Liberal Democrats.
"I do not agree with the Conservatives. I do not agree with the Labour Party. I am neither on the left-wing nor am I on the right-wing". Such missives were trotted out every week on satirical shows like Spitting Image.
Into the light
Tony Blair of New Labour fame/notoriety blasted through the creaking left-right consensus in the early 1990s.
He proclaimed a third way which mixed both radical change and centrist policies which was followed by Bill Clinton in US and other Western Europe countries.
Finally, to me, it seems that someone had unglued themselves from traditional political posturing and a new wave of political sentiment was gathering force.
He did not make ideological appeals to win votes. He took soundings from all sides of the debate and resolved to come up with a solution that delivered maximum utility and benefit to the people.
He won three elections and eventually handed over the reins of power to the left-wing Gordon Brown.
Back to the darkness
Although Brown was not responsible for this, we have, in the intervening time, seen a significant shift back to left-right partisanship. This move was best personified by the divide over Brexit here in the UK and the election of Donald Trump in American politics.
I find it much harder to get madder at the extreme left than I do at the extreme right. But they share many things in common.
Both have their own ideas on what is unacceptable speech. Both want to shut each other out of the debate.
Proponents of extreme left and extreme right politics in Western Europe and North America seem to be on a mission to purge dissenting views and opinions from society.
Indeed, they seem to be in a race with themselves to be the most pure of thought, word and deed (to borrow a Pet Shop Boys lyric).
People are angry because they feel politically homeless
These activists have lost faith in the political process.
You can see this with activists who also happen to be young people. Many of them don't join a mainstream political party, perhaps because they're not "pure enough". What little substantive debate that still takes place in Labour and Conservative clubs is probably too broad for them. It's not the echo chamber they're used to from Twitter.
What Twitter has taught them is he or she who shouts the loudest wins the argument. Twitter teaches them that compromise is tantamount to surrender (despite it being firmly routed in common sense and necessary for a functioning democracy).
"Never kissed a Tory"
The division between young people and old people, rich people and poor people, homeowners and renters, left-wing and right-wing and so on feels to me like it's at its greatest since the Cold War.
That's summed up for me by the "never kissed a Tory" meme. People who spout this crap believe that their political opponents are genuinely evil bigots. They're not - they're just people who have a different idea about how to improve everyone's lot that you disagree with.
The state of our cherished institutions is a problem too. The BBC and traditionally impartial outlets are no longer trusted to be non-partisan. Just look at the horrific online abuse suffered by former BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg for doing her job. I wouldn't fancy being in her successor Chris Mason's shoes.
The so-called independent journalism now feeding the minds of the politically active is often unsourced and borders on conspiracy theories much of the time.
All of these factors are poisoning political life as is the calibre of politicians like former Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.
It would be great if his becoming PM was a fluke. But you just need to look at his cabinet and the shadow cabinet, both chockablock with non-entities driven by ideology who put themselves and their own party first ahead of the country.
What do centrists want?
An end to the division.
Extremism on both sides and the shallowness of today's political class means our larger societal problems go unsolved for years.
I have a vision of the good life for all. No matter your background, religion, origin or sexuality. I preach fairness and equality. I preach the values of love and service and kindness. I also want growth, ambition and progress for us all.
Politics is never going to be able to deliver what I want it to deliver and what society really needs right now with the way things are at this current time.
To make the right laws and to build a fairer society, we need to compromise and negotiate effectively in an atmosphere of open, uncensored, sometimes uncomfortable discussion.
We need to regroup and coalesce around a new centre. Now.
Alternatives to centrism - the problem with left and right
We associate the left-right spectrum with:
- Conservatism is traditionally resistant to change and seeks the preservation of the status quo and the institutions of nationhood. Opponents regularly classify standard, previously uncontroversial right-wing opinions now as fascists, racists, Nazis, religious extremists, reactionaries, gammons, the far-right and so on.
- Liberalism is the closest political tradition to centrism with its emphasis on modernity and change through gradual reform. Liberals (and centrists) are at the receiving end of epithets like bleeding hearts, libtards, globalists, safe spacers and so on.
- Socialism is arguably the longest-lasting legacy of the French Revolution. Many socialists view themselves as contemporary heirs. Many socialists believe the pace of change under liberalism is too slow leading some to call for radical change and revolution. Socialists with standard, previously uncontroversial opinions are now often smeared by their opponents as being Maoists, Trotskyites, commies and anarchists.
Why do I think they are bad and not in tune with my values?
I included the insults for a reason with my description of traditional political groupings.
Those insults come from tribalism based on ideology. They're predicated on the painfully misguided assumption that someone who disagrees with you is a political extremist. They're not. They're just people who have a different point of view and that point of view may contain some valuable insights and kernels of truth.
This is not the starting point from which a new world routed in fairness and equality can be achieved.
As unpopular as it might be to say this, and I don't care which of the political parties they might come from, but we need a new Blair-like figure to lead us aware from political extremes. We need that person to lead the country with a government which embraces centrism as its modus operandi and which would seek compromise in all decision-making.
Caveat - invading Iraq was not centrist and I wouldn't want a new leader, even with the shiniest of centrist credentials, to invade another country that wasn't a direct threat to Britain or if not approved by the UN.
What would a centrist world look like?
I've gone on long enough talking about centrism. But what can centrism deliver which, in my opinion, an approach from an ideological position could not?
The key wins for me would be:
- A genuine interest in what the working man and woman wants, not lip service when elections come around
- Education that gets people ready to join the world and make a contribution
- Energy security and efficiency balanced with environmental protections
- Open, free, fair and transparent markets to ensure fair pricing
- A well-funded, patient-focused national health service free at the point of use
- A welfare state that picks us up and dusts us off when we need help
- Freedom from alleged guilt for historical crimes committed by our forebearers
- Help to get criminals back on the straight and narrow for rehabilitation allied with a bit of tough love for the punishment part
- A government acting in our collective interest that values humility, honesty, and honour
- Data and robust research presented by academics and experts to provide evidence for policy
Policy making would be based on a reasoned consideration of present and future needs founded on logic and evidence.
Businesses would benefit from a centrist approach too
I love design sprints. In a design sprint, all stakeholders get into a room and resolve to solve a problem within a set space of time, usually five working days.
These are proper stakeholders. Not the phoney stakeholders that governments often invite contributions from in a consultation like charities which receive most of their funding from the government and therefore take the government's tilt on a particular issue.
In a design sprint, views are taken from everyone involved in the sourcing, production and distribution chain to get their perspective on an issue affecting customers or staff with a goal to solve the problem.
Consensus underpins the process. Design sprint participants are encouraged to come up with creative, out-of-the-box solutions.
Each person gets to defend his or her perspective and the solutions deemed most deliverable or valuable are taken forward to prototyping. They undergo a whole new set of tests before the first working iteration is released into the real world. Constant iteration follows based upon evidence of the effectiveness of the solution derived.
Consensus-led approaches like design sprints require a group of people to commit to working together. Power and influence are distributed equally between team members. The outcome is a way forward that's representative of everyone's opinion. When the product or service is released into the real world, those delivering and benefiting from the service have greater ownership of it because they (or their representatives) were important and their views were considered and valued.
If design sprints deliver for businesses because of the inclusivity, centrism delivers for governments and their people for the very same reason.
Embracing the middle ground with a centrist message and approach
Leading with centrist principles brings you to consensus. Inclusive, diverse environments lead to the best outcomes.
Consensus secures and supports the feeling, perspectives, experiences and opinions of all, even those at the fringe.
Centrism suits my politics. I do not undermine extremist views from the left or the right. I listen to everything but I will take a decision that best suits the needs of the majority and seeks fairness and equality as best as I can.
Many people suggest centrism is a safe space, a grim elite that makes decisions for the so-called lunatic fringe because they are superior in some way.
My centrism is based on a set of principles for a safer, sustainable, moral and more equal society which is focused on growth and progress, whether applied to politics or business.
PS. Please sign up for our newsletter to receive the latest Project Lifejacket articles every week in your inbox.