The revenge of the centrist dads

There’s nothing moderate about the technocratic elites.

Tom Slater

Tom Slater

Topics Politics UK

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We need to retire the word ‘centrism’. As a ‘centrist’ Labour Party is poised to reclaim power in the United Kingdom, the phrase seems just to be a byword for the worst – and cringiest – people in politics. Those for whom a shorter c-word would be just as appropriate.

The supposed centrists are already carrying on like they’re back in charge. There’s a certain cockiness. A bizarre certitude that the ‘awful’ populist era is over – despite everyone knowing that Labour’s absurd poll lead is down almost entirely to the self-immolation of the Tories. It’s the revenge of the centrist dads.

The Rest Is Politics – that podcast on which Labour warmonger Alastair Campbell and tousled Tory wet Rory Stewart pretend to be wildly different politically – is currently being broadcast on Channel 4. Campbell and Stewart have also been enlisted for C4’s election-night coverage, with Stewart as the main ‘Tory’ voice. The old, phoney ‘divide’ – in which ‘left’ and ‘right’ are basically indistinguishable, arguing on the head of a pin – is being redrawn before our eyes.

This is centrism, we’re told. The bloodless creed which was sent packing by Brexit but we desperately need to sort out our myriad problems. Time to get rid of the ‘ideology’, the ‘division’ and populist ‘easy answers’. What we need is leaders, problem-solvers, nice people. People like Them. And Starmer’s parade of no-marks.

There’s a new book out, The Centre Must Hold, preaching the gospel. It’s a series of essays penned by the likes of Tony Blair, billionaire technocrat Michael Bloomberg and former Aussie PM Malcolm Turnbull, who reigned for a mighty three years Down Under.

But don’t pick up a copy if you’re keen to get to grips with what centrism is actually supposed to mean. According to Yair Zivan, the book’s editor, the values of centrism are ‘moderation, pragmatism and compromise’, not to mention ‘an embrace of complexity’. If this sounds like airy, Hallmark-card guff to you, it gets worse. He also says centrism is about ‘hope’ triumphing over ‘fear’.

We roughly know what we mean when we talk about centrism. The Third Way. The supposed end of ideology. A technocratic globalism dolled up as internationalism. The replacement of broadly class-based parties with rival teams of bean counters and bank managers – with project-planners-in-chief rather than prime ministers.

But the claims to competence they make for themselves are utterly detached from reality. Indeed, almost everything the Adults in the Room touch tends to turn to shit. These oh-so-complex technocrats and their oh-so-clever orthodoxies have presided over financial crises, bloody forever wars and sky-high energy prices.

This is the paradox of ‘centrism’. While nominally boring and cautious – keen not to revive the old conflicts over class, labour and capital – it is, in practice, batshit crazy. These are the geniuses who gave us Net Zero – the most audacious campaign of self-impoverishment the world has ever seen, repackaged as a blow for progress.

And while some of the more savvy ‘centrists’ have realised identity politics is electoral cyanide – Blair apparently isn’t a fan – many of them practise it with the zeal of a convert. Joe Biden may have appeared reassuringly old-school pre-2020 – long before the senility properly kicked in – but once in office he instantly set about signing Executive Orders to impose gender extremism and ‘racial equity’ on American life.

The apparent paucity of Starmer’s economic vision is matched with an unblinking commitment to all the regressive green and woke shibboleths. While he’s been forced to scale back his £28-billion-a-year green-investment pledge, he is still committed to ‘decarbonising’ electricity by 2030. He also wants to bring in a ‘landmark’ Race Equality Act, which looks to be DEI racialism on steroids.

The empty vessel needs to be filled with something. As the major political parties have abandoned the ideologies – conservatism, social democracy, liberalism – that once gave them meaning, ‘saving the planet’ and posing as the guardians of minorities have provided a semblance of mission to their otherwise deathly technocracy.

These agendas are not only reactionary on their own terms, they are also pursued in a thoroughly authoritarian fashion. Indeed, if anything unites the so-called centrists, it is the conviction that politics must be done over the heads of the electorate, with more and more power vested in supranational bodies, and more and more speech codes enforced on a dissenting public.

The ‘centrists’ claim to be defending liberal democracy against an authoritarian, populist tide. The truth is precisely the opposite. They support the usurpation of democracy by technocratic, unaccountable institutions – prince among them, the EU – and the salami-slicing of every conceivable liberty their citizens presently enjoy.

Centrism can feel like a nothingy, wispy worldview. A lot of it can seem like pure vibes – or, in the UK right now, shallow, kneejerk anti-Toryism. Witness the desperate attempt to present outgoing Conservative PM Rishi Sunak – a Blairite if ever there was one – as a man leading a dangerously populist, right-wing government.

But this tendency, whatever we want to call it, certainly does exist. It’s just that the claims the ‘centrists’ make about themselves are totally wrong. They claim you can only win elections from ‘the centre’, even though the centre of public opinion is both economically more radical and socially saner than the supposed centrist politicians.

What’s more, while the centrists claim the mantle of moderation, liberalism and democracy, they are institutionalising the most insane, illiberal and anti-democratic ideas imaginable. Centrism is far too polite a term to describe the ancien régime, knocked back on its heels by Brexit, now back with a vengeance.

But the cockiness, the gloating, the unabashed cringe of the current moment belies a deep vulnerability. Britain might be about to elect Keir Starmer’s Labour Party, but everyone knows he is winning by default – his party’s sudden revival is entirely down to the collapse of the Tories and the demoralisation of its Brexity, 2019 coalition. In this year of elections, populism is in the ascendancy across Europe and the US, where Biden is now in deep trouble.

Millions of voters are still crying out for a freer, more democratic life. The centrists’ worst nightmare.

Tom Slater is editor of spiked. Follow him on X: @Tom_Slater_

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics UK


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