Is it time for a new non-Brexit focused centrist party? And if so, where from?

In a post-Brexit world Brexit and Brexit alone dominates political discourse. As our current crop of politicians are incapable of responding to any question without mentioning the B-word. This unrelenting focus on Brexit is also born out in the number of new parties founded since the referendum; with over 50 new parties established in 2017, double the number set up in 2016.

The new parties that have sprung up since the referendum maintain the political obsession with Brexit. From the Brexiteering Democrats and Veterans party, founded by ex-Ukipper John Rees-Evans, who shot to fame when he claimed a gay donkey tried to rape his horse, to Renew, the centrist Remainer party founded by ex-counter terrorism officer Chris Coghlan.

However, in Britain today there are multiple pressing issues other than Brexit that require political focus. Areas like housing, healthcare and homelessness, which are being neglected due to Brexit-mania. So, is it not time for a new party that takes a stance on Brexit (as no serious political party can ignore the post-Brexit reality) but actually focuses on governing Britain?

For a new party to be successful it must tap the most fertile ground in the very centre of British politics. A centre that has been vacated by Labour, who are only going further left as evidenced by the political assassination of Claire Kober in Haringey by the Labour NEC. And the Conservatives who have swung right as they desperately cling on to power by pandering to Jacob Rees-Mogg and his polite but no doubt extreme cronies in the European Research Group.

A new party should seek to take the empty centre ground and incorporate a Brexit position with its overall centrist message. To be a success and draw voters from both sides of the political spectrum this new party must have a coalition of voters to stand for and represent. It cannot merely have a list of policies hastily engraved on a stone tablet. This new centrist party must always seek the middle ground: consider nationalising the railways, but not nationalise all that was privatised under Thatcher; encourage open markets and innovation, but combat corporate greed and provide for the most vulnerable in society; and engage with the EU in a way that reinforces its centrist ideals but also respects the referendum result.

Where is this new, centrist, non-Brexit focused party going to come from? One of the 65 new parties founded since the referendum?

Unfortunately, the chances of an entirely new party taking power or truly influencing British politics are slim. Some may disagree and point to the rise of En Marche in France as the young, attractive, liberal Emmanuelle Macron swept to power in 2017. However, Macron was not from outside of the political system. Rather, he was an ex-Rothschild’s banker who played a major role in the French government and was seen as the protégé of the incumbent Francois Hollande.

In the 2017 UK election the two major parties gained over 82% of the vote. So realistically neither the anti-Brexit Renew, pro-Brexit Democrats and Veterans party nor ex-UKIP leader Henry Bolton’s OneNation party are going to shake up the political order and commandeer the middle ground. Instead, for a new party to be successful it must come from inside the current political system. In much the same way as En Marche came from existing political circles in France.

The most obvious unifying factor that could lead to a new party is Brexit. As Tory Remainers such as Anna Soubry and more Blairite pro-EU Labour MPs like Chukka Umunna could combine to force a second referendum. But this clearly does not lead to an all-encompassing multi-issue party that focuses on more than just Brexit. Rather, this would result in a UKIP style one-issue party, as a desire to remain in the EU would be the only factor binding together those MPs that currently find themselves on the fringes of their parties.

So maybe a new centrist party should not be a new party at all. Instead, this new party could be a further evolution of the Liberal Democrats. Which we must remember used to be the Social and Liberal Democrats – after a merger between the Social Democratic Party (founded by rebellious Labour MPs) and the Liberal party. Therefore, a combination of moderate Conservatives, Labour Blairites and Lib Dems may in fact be the answer. Such a party would have to shy away from Vince Cable’s current Brexit policy and a rebranding exercise would be required – but a rekindling of the Lib Dems represents the best chance for centrist politics.

This new Liberal Democrat party must take a logical stance on Brexit in order to become a true multi-issue centrist party that has a realistic chance of gaining power. A stance that maintains the economic, political and social standards that we have developed alongside the EU but also respects the vote of the British electorate. As if this new party took such a stand then maybe, just maybe, there would be scope in British politics for a centrist party to return to power.

If such a stance was taken then the new Liberal Democrat party would take votes from both sides; as it would build on the existing centrist vote and take the votes of both Conservative and Labour moderates. Votes from centrists who want to keep markets open but not bow to global corporations; provide free education, healthcare and foreign aid but not increase tax to French levels; and engage with the EU in a constructive way that preserves the independence vote but also does not neglect pressing issues that need attention now.

So surprisingly, no, we do not need a “new” centrist party. Rather we need an evolution of current centrist politics. A re-birthing of the Liberal Democrats that can engage with Brexiteers, Remainers, Blairites and Tories. A  “new” party that can become a central guiding light in the current political darkness.

Article by Josh Butler

Photograph: The Daily Express

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