On Centrism

In my two previous posts, I have made passing criticisms of centrism. I thought it might be worthwhile outlining exactly why I’m so critical of centrism, and people who define themselves as centrists. After all, what could possibly be wrong with moderate, sensible politics?

A key issue with political centrism is that nobody sees themselves as an extremist, or as holding extremist views. In fact, anybody whose opinions have been formed as a result of reading and understanding issues, and not from paying too much attention to buzzwords, can explain their positions on certain issues and back them up with some facts or statistics–maybe even on the fly. I describe myself as a socialist because my views on, for example, public ownership, on the economy, on social issues, are close to what we’ve come to understand as ‘socialist’. I don’t, however, when someone asks me about my political views, describe myself as somewhere between a soft-left liberal and a full-blown, nationalise-your-mum communist. I don’t do that because it would be stupid and wouldn’t really help anybody.

Most people can justify their position along the political spectrum with their views, many subscribe to a named ideology which can be used as verbal shorthand to quickly indicate their ideas in broad strokes. Nobody decides that they are either left wing or right wing; they read, they listen, they think, and then they form their views. I can tell somebody I’m a socialist, and after they’ve rolled their eyes and wiped the vomit from their chin, they have a decent idea of my politics. So-called centrists define their views by what they don’t believe, they use their self-defined position of moderation to look down on the left and right alike.

So many liberals in the UK will gladly condemn the Conservative government. They can see the decimation of the NHS, they can see the shambolic and incompetent Brexit negotiations, they can see the rise in poverty and homelessness. But far too many ‘centre-left’ progressives are too wrapped-up in wanting to make absolutely clear just how much they are rolling their eyes at the Labour Party under its current leadership, that they don’t actually help solve these issues. So many take a milquetoast position on the issues facing us, ensuring they tell us just how sensible they are, that it’s abundantly clear that they are hesitant to commit to any real, radical change.

Also, what’s stark is the seemingly never-ending vastness of the middle section of the Venn diagram comparing centrists and ‘people who are really smug and patronising’. There is an inescapable air of smugness about centrists, always looking down their noses at the left and right, dealing out insults on Twitter.

Finally, I think a big point about centrism in the current political landscape is that if we define the centre ground as being popular with the public in general, the Labour Party in its current state is that centre ground. Labour’s policies, such as nationalising the railway, poll as overwhelmingly popular with the public. Centrism is dead.

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