The centre ground isn’t dead - it’s just in cold storage
There are those who have argued in recent years that the centre ground is dead and that the middle of the road kind of politics that was once commonplace in British politics has now been erased from the very fabric of our politics. Well, I say that is untrue and I believe that there is plenty of life and vigour yet in the good old centre ground of this country.
The centre ground it defined as “the nominal space in the political spectrum that is neither right or left.” In that concise definition lies the whole essence of the centre ground in that we seek to take the contrasting ideals and visions for the country that lie on the political left and right and devise a moderate, centrist, middle of the road alternative. To some that may sound like sitting on the fence but to me it is being accommodating and reasonable. After all, isn’t that how we get on in our everyday lives by compromising and being rational and reasonable people?
In previous times, we have seen great proponents of the centre ground such as David Cameron, Tony Blair and Nick Clegg. Now I know that this list is to an extent subjective but these people embodied the grown-up, mature and sensible nature of centre ground politics. Cameron dragged the Tory Party from the illiberal, intolerant and outdated politics of the Conservative past to the modern and broadly centrist position that allowed them to enter government in 2010. Blair moved the Labour Party on from the electoral failures under left-wing leaders, Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock, and into the reasonable and moderate centre ground of New Labour which successfully ejected a tired Conservative government from office. Clegg took the difficult and gallant decision to take the Liberal Democrats into coalition with the Tories in 2010 and, despite knowing the damage it would do to his party, helped lay the foundations for a balanced recovery from the 2008 crash. Whilst these leaders impacted upon their parties and our politics differently, they all recognised the fact that their parties were only able to succeed in the centre ground.
Yet in contrast to these centre ground politicians, in recent years we have seen political parties going to the extremes. Under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of Labour, the party drove off to the left-wing while under Boris Johnson’s stewardship of the Conservatives, the party has gone off to the right-wing. As a result of the ideological dogma previously seen under Corbyn and currently seen under Johnson, there is an unwillingness to be moderate and to compromise. This both turns off most voters who don’t subscribe to the extremes and discourages compromise and accommodation. To put it simply, the country simply cannot have the stability and the certainty that it needs without sticking to the centre ground.
Here in Northern Ireland, we also live in a world of two extremes: on the one hand, the right-wing, conservative and outdated Democratic Unionist Party and on the other, the left-wing, out of touch and hypocritical Sinn Fein. At every consecutive election since at least 2003, both these parties have been returned as the largest in the NI Assembly and have led successive Executives. It was under this “coalition of chaos” (to borrow a phrase from Theresa May) that we had the RHI scandal, underfunding of our NHS and the three-year hiatus at Stormont to name but a few highlights. The result of having two extreme political parties presiding over the government of Northern Ireland is that there is almost always inevitably political deadlock and a lack of genuine, proper government of Northern Ireland. If the past few years aren’t sufficient proof of that, I’m not really sure what is.
This year has seen an unprecedented level of uncertainty in our politics, our economy and our society due to Covid-19. This has resulted in increased compromise and co-operation across our political system. If there were ever a lesson to learn for the future and a positive that should be retained in the “new normal” is this change in culture and attitudes. In the past, ideology and politicking have obstructed good working across the political system and simply good, sound and moderate policy creation and development. I know it’s apparently cool and on trend nowadays to be on the extremes and stick unbendingly to your principles but actually when we lose the ability to be moderate and compromise, we all suffer as I alluded to earlier. This suffering can be seen from the oppressive new Chinese security law in Hong Kong to the right-wing government in Hungary led by Victor Orban. It is up to those politicians in the centre ground to stand up for moderate, centrist policies and politics and up to us, the electorate, to vote for politicians and political parties that will implement truly centre ground politics and policies. In this world of extremes, it is more important than ever that we have a strong centre ground to counter and fight this and give us proper hope for the future.
Peter Wilson is a 17 year old student studying A Levels in Politics, History and Sociology. He is a member of Alliance and the Liberal Democrats. His interests include local politics, British politics and Irish politics.