Politically homeless "centrists" call for a return to the pragmatism of the New Labour era. But until they see Blair as the ideologue he was, nothing will changeby Chaminda Jayanetti / September 6, 2018 / Leave a comment
If only they’d built more council housing. Having once been kings of the castle, centrists now find themselves politically homeless.
With politics polarising between the rival populisms of Steve Bannon and Jeremy Corbyn, they define their identity less by what they support than what they oppose.
In particular, they openly abhor the populists’ perceived tendency to favour ideology over pragmatism—a supposed departure from the New Labour era they openly long for.
Centrists may no longer know what they want, but they know that when they find it, it will be by carefully sifting through evidence. They are the grimly methodical Sarah Lunds of politics.
Centrists’ patron saint
The patron saint of centrists is still Tony Blair. Whilst his legacy is less divisive than Margaret Thatcher’s—unlike Thatcher, most people hate him—few political reputations have swung as wildly as the former Labour prime minister’s.
Originally an overwhelmingly popular political saviour, he became known as a crafty pragmatist, then a messianic warmonger, and finally a money-grabbing, out-of-touch liar.
Unsurprisingly, his supporters eschew those latter characterisations. Instead, they argue his pragmatism was the foundation of his initial overwhelming popularity—and proceed to argue that a similarly pragmatic Labour leader would now be 20 points clear of the Tories in the polls.
In reality, post-Brexit polarisation makes 20-point leads almost impossible to achieve. Even Theresa May at her strongest never sustained such leads over Corbyn at his weakest.
Nor does a captivating Blair-style leader actually exist. Andy Burnham can’t make up his mind. Yvette Cooper couldn’t beat Corbyn. David Miliband can’t hold a banana.
How Labour won in 97
Whether Blair’s perceived pragmatism is what drove his electoral success is more of an unknown. It’s easy to forget just how utterly reviled John Major’s government was by the 1997 election. Would John Smith have won a landslide in 1997? We will never know. But if governments lose elections rather than oppositions winning them, the Tories were heading for defeat against whoever.
What does need unpacking, however, is the idea of Blair as a pragmatist. This is based on his reputation for triangulation—proposing centre-left policies but tweaked and marketed so as to appeal to the centre-right.
This assumes that Blair was a centre-left social democrat who strategically drove…