Author: Chris Key
Last weekend, the Sunday Times revealed that 38% of people would vote for a new right wing party that is committed to Brexit, and a quarter would support a party which was explicitly far right, anti-immigration and anti-Islam. This should be a wake up call for progressives.
The electorate is faced with the choice between a deeply divided Conservative Party whose Eurosceptic tail is wagging its political dog or a Labour Party that thinks it knows better than the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance on how anti-semitism should be defined. The party I belong to, and campaign for is still polling at under 10%, even with all of the chaos which surrounds us.
There are Tory MPs who have received death threats as a consequence of some outrageous headlines in the right wing tabloids and even the broadsheets, describing them as traitors, saboteurs and mutineers. The Prime Minister’s response to this has been dismally weak. She has formed an alliance with far right governments in Hungary to support the UK’s Brexit position. A government which has eroded press freedoms and is clearly homophobic.
On the left, we have seen a Labour MP, Margaret Hodge, told she was being investigated by the Labour Party within hours of a tirade against Jeremy Corbyn, while real anti-semitism cases have taken months to be investigated. We have seen Corbyn refuse to condemn Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, despite the fact that his government last year rounded up political opponents in the middle of the night and arrested them. Looking as an outsider at these two parties is like looking at the scene of a Greek restaurant once the waiters have done their plate smashing routine.
For this reason, I believe it is the duty of the centre to re-align. We can be a spectator as the slow motion car crash which is Brexit plays out or we can do something.
Centrists already work together. Vince Cable has written before with Chuka Umunna in the Evening Standard. The Greens and the Lib Dems worked successfully together to defeat the Conservatives heavily in recent local elections where I live in Richmond. South West London MPs have worked together to campaign vigorously against Heathrow. But why can this not lead to a permanent change in British politics?
In France, the emergence of Macron has shown that a new political force is possible. France is a country where it is hard to change anything in the public sector. A country where as I learned when teaching there that even high school students can go on strike. Yet it has been able to create a political earthquake by eliminating the two traditional parties from the final round of voting in the 2016 Presidential elections.
Us centrists have many things in common – from believing in the benefits of immigration, to valuing public services, wanting to reduce inequality, tackling climate change and defending human rights. But most of all we are internationalists. We know that the UK does best when it works together with other countries.
A new centrist party, would probably be easier to defect to for disillusioned Tory and Labour MPs who are more aligned with each other than with their own leaders. Vince Cable is a leader who moderate Tories and Labour MPs could easily coalesce around while a longer term succession is figured out. Through the coalition he has proved his ability to work with those in other parties.
We only have to look to Italy to see what happens when we create a vacuum in the centre. Steve Bannon is in contact with Boris Johnson and has made it clear he is setting up a new populist movement in Europe to ensure it takes over the European Parliament. For the moderates in the main two parties here in the UK, their political homes have left them and dumped their possessions in the drive. It is time for the center to unite under one roof – to protect our nation from the populist storm which is brewing.