The Yawning Centre Ground
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 27th December, 2015
With Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn widely being predicted to purge his Shadow Cabinet of several right-wingers and Britain’s Conservative government rapidly becoming the most intolerant and anti-progressive since the dark days of Mrs Thatcher, there is a yawning centre ground in British politics. In principle, this offers an ideal opportunity to the Liberal Democrats as a third force. But to occupy that ground successfully won’t just happen; it has to be engineered. The way NOT to do it was illustrated in the final stages of May’s disastrous general election campaign, when a party political broadcast was aired showing a woman driving a car (while not wearing a safety belt, as thousands of TV viewers noted with disapproval) wondering whether to turn left or turn right but in the end deciding to go straight ahead. A neat idea from a PR firm’s point of view, perhaps, but as a political message totally vacuous. The LibDems were suddenly neither one thing nor the other, and nothing in particular; no wonder many of our wavering supporters went elsewhere.
The late, lamented Charles Kennedy understood that the Party must not be seen as the soggy centre, and was good at articulating a narrative of being “actively forward”. That is something Tim Farron needs to emulate. Tim has rightly seized on human rights as a core Liberal principle, highlighting in particular the humanitarian crisis relating to refugees and migrants on the one hand and the disgraceful record of Saudi Arabia and some other badly performing countries on the other. But human rights — and indeed wider civil liberties — are always going to be a minority discourse, so the LibDems need to craft a “radical forward” political platform that draws more people away from left-leaning Labour and right-leaning Tories. With the Green Party wilting, environmental issues can be reclaimed by the Party. And so must the issue of fairness, often talked about in LibDem literature but as yet not turned into a campaigning message — one that is passionate, one that is angry about the growing inequalities within British society and one that challenges the Conservative head-on. The Tories may have been our Coalition partners between 2010 and 2015, but there is no doubt that they are our political opponents now.