Centrist political thinking is surprisingly thin in Britain. An example from America shows that it can be more than difference-splitting between left and rightby John Gray / October 20, 2002 / Leave a comment
Book: The Radical Center Author: Ted Halstead and Michael Lind Price: New America Foundation, ?8.50
New Labour has always defined itself as a centrist party, but it is surprising how thin on the ground centrist thinking is in this country. The phenomenal electoral success of New Labour has come not from the government’s policies but from the self-immolation of the Tories and Tony Blair’s skill in altering the public perception of his party. Voters who used to be frightened of Labour are afraid no longer, while the Tories are viewed with a mixture of pity and contempt. Labour is seen as basically competent, the Tories as faintly batty. This is a triumph of high politics, not new thinking. British politics remains as barren of new ideas as it was in the dim, wasted years of John Major.
Why this should be so is an interesting question. The accommodating style of Blairite politics is surely part of the explanation. A strategy designed to avoid offending any major interest may or may not succeed, but it is almost inevitable that it should leave society fundamentally unchanged. So it has proved. Underneath all the rhetoric about New Britain an extremely old country will be found lurking, with all its unregenerate attitudes and ancient divisions. Over five years since Labour came to power, we still have a two-nation school system. Industry is reverting to class war. A government whose defining commitment is breaking with the past is finding the past rising up against it.
For all its success in occupying the centre ground, New Labour has never displayed anything resembling a coherent centrist outlook. To see what we lack, we need look no further than the US. At the New America Foundation in Washington, a venture capitalist and a political theorist have published a centrist manifesto that beats anything available in Britain. Ted Halstead’s and Michael Lind’s The Radical Centre: The Future of American Politics really achieves what the early Blairite period briefly promised-a political programme that transcends the old categories of right and left.
Their starting point is the fact that New Deal policies belong to an industrial era that has passed. The American system of social security and Medicare made sense when the working-age population greatly outnumbered the elderly, whom they subsidised, and large numbers of workers were employees who aspired to long-term employment by a single company. Policies are needed…