Centrism: the new populism?
During these last four years or so of ruction upheaval in the usually stable arena of British politics. It has been commonly supposed that something sometime has to give this week. It did MP's from both of Britain's major parties resigned. Their memberships and gathered together under the banner of the independent group. These MP's are broadly speaking either from the right wing of the left-wing labour party or the left wing of the right wing conservative party accordingly. A not unreasonably the independent group have found themselves characterized if not caricatured as centrists in certain agitated circles, these last few years centrist has become an insult a suggestion that those to whom it is applied are complacent careerists and all snug elitists, but what with one thing and another might centrism nevertheless, be Jew. A revival with a here in the UK or in other countries roiled by populism. What right now too. Centrism really mean, this is the foreign desk. There are certain things that I think people are yearning for to come back into the political debate long term issues that need desperate action climate change ageing society productivity in the economy, what on earth, we're going to do with technological revolution. All of those things have completely been put on the backburner that sense that you give any ground the stop being ideologically. Pure has lost any powers law slaughter sway over people. And that's where I think these of centrism is an insult partly comes from. 'cause it's come to mean being the wishy washy not really standing up believing as opposed to what I think people soup proponents that kind of at UB about what is about rational policy-making when we talk about centrism or the death of centralism what we are also talking about is the rise of ideologues. So by that token, I'm going to say centrism is basically the style of technocratic expert lead consensus. Politics making which seems to be on the way. Hello and welcome to the foreign desk. I'm Andrew moolah. And my first guest today walls, one of the first wave of seven defectors to the new independent group in the UK's house of Commons. Chris Liz Levi member of parliament for Nottingham east left the labor party earlier this week after thirty two years of membership saying labor had been hijacked by the machine politics of the far lift I spoke to Chris Leslie at colors house in Westminster. I started by asking him if he saw the independent group as a centrist movement. I think it is a center ground formation, basically trying to build a consensus around what we have characterized as the main stream values of the country. We worked together on a couple of sides of four of our statement of values the values not so the policy prescription. So we haven't sort of gone into particular details relate. Getting to one particular month of one particular, but we've talked very much about those things that we think cut across that center ground so notions of fair play focusing on opportunity and merit in terms of advancing through society, but also recognizing the importance of responsibility, both individuals having to take some responsibility. But also, the political responsibility international responsibilities. We all have I think the public. Yes. Want compassion in their politics and hate the fact that particularly from the conservative side. Has felt as though is left the vulnerable isolated, but they also care about tax payers money being spent properly with adequate scrutiny those are pretty basic things and sometimes taken for granted. But I think now is a period where we've had to reassert some of those values because the public have have haven't heard that from the main parties for a long time. What's your feeling about? Why centrism though has become it has literally become a term of abuse or centrist has become a turn of abuse, especially within the labor party in this country, which well within living memory prided itself on upholding exactly that you'll have heard this criticism already the idea that the independent group is basically a Tony Blair tribute act. Well, Tony Blair didn't have focused clue what was going on this week. And nobody he's I think he said himself. So we've decided to do our own thing and plow our own for oh, you can't look back to the last century for the answers of for the challenges that are going ahead. There are certain things that I think people are yearning for to come back into the political debate long term issues that need desperate action climate change ageing society in productivity in the economy, what on earth, we're going to do with technological revolution. All of those things have completely been put on the back burner because partly because Brexit has arrived and the main political parties have chosen to sit on the fence or take go down particularly euro-phobic route. So I'm aware that there is this attack that somehow the center ground is a grey scale mash up of those more clear of. Tipple's on either either end of the spectrum. I don't accept that characterization of the center ground. I think the values I hold are just as valid and strong, for example. I do not believe in lese, fair market solutions in all circumstances. I similarly do not believe in status ownership and control so answers in all circumstances. I believe in well-regulated Mark social market economy, which allows enterprise to thrive and helps us generate decent economy. So that the revenues we have pay for our public services and allows government to intervene on things like health and social care and education the basics that we all need to protect those most in need that isn't something that is has been talked about for a long time. And I think people have lost sight of that. But of course, it's it's a complicated thing sometimes to talk about that in a social media age wherein to itunes and sixty characters. Everybody wants to have. A black and white answer to every possible solution. You know, you've either got to be four something or against something and almost debate or nuance has been squeezed out of the body politic. And that is partly I think what hoping there will be a bit of a response to how do you respond to the criticism, which I know you've you've doubtless already heard and certainly going to here again, this is essentially a reanimation on attempt to reanimate the very very thing that the populist revolts from both sides of politics that we've seen were actually a response to. Yes and populism. I think is has is having its moment. I mean, you can see whether it's Trump in the states all happening in in Europe. And of course, it's fueled very much by this sugar, Russian the social media side. You can definitely whip up a lot of anger if you are a populist. But I think we now we've now coming to a point where that needs to be an antidote to populism insofar as I actually think if you build a populist appeal essentially on false promises that the solution to everybody's problem is something to do with stopping immigration, for instance, if you're coming from the right wing or that if everything is owned and controlled by an individual pulling levers in the treasury, then then everything will be fine that that those false promises will be found out. You know, one of the things I've worried about in the labor party has been the constant sort of tendency to go into making impossible promises, particularly on the on spending, which couldn't really be fulfilled and most people know in their hearts, they couldn't really be fulfilled without jeopardizing the economy, you know, everybody wants everything for free. But actually when you start asking, well d- mind, I ask how are you going to pay for it or where's the money coming from those difficult decisions have have been airbrushed out of the populist. Script and they don't want to have to confront some of those things. But as Trump is finding out in the states when it comes to fulfilling those promises that got him elected. He's now struggling with with when reality bites and similarly the populist movements are going to have to face that. And unless we have the confidence to call out. Snake oil salesman that actually they are peddling things that are not that are not realistic or achievable, then then the populace will continue to win if as seems likely for the next while anyway, the independent group is going to be thought of as what constitutes centrism in British politics. And I say that with all due respect to the Liberal Democrats how quickly and how practically I guess do you do you figure out how to stop? I think it's fair to say that right now, you'll see as being defined in terms of what you're not which is to say, you're not the hard left labor party. And you're not the cranky eurosceptic head bangers of the conservative party. How soon are you able do you think to start to finding yourselves in terms of what you are? Well, I hope from day one we've tried to have a positive and constructive set of values set out in on our website and on the put that we have from. Day one because it isn't just about what is wrong with the the main parties, it is very much about the values. We want to take forward now that isn't a full policy program or manifesto. We haven't even got the structures yet, we've got to have our inaugural meetings, and so forth and talk about you know, what roles people are going to do all of that is still to be to be discussed. But. You know, those positive values in the centre ground that echo as a microcosm of mainstream society. I believe we've had a good go at articulating those hope over the next few weeks and months people will look at that. And start to say, yeah, I understand where that's coming from. It is not about an ideological approach to understanding society or funding solutions it's about an evidence based approach to moving through public policy. Trying to take a longer term attitude to the way. Different challenges are addressed. But from a set of values that I think are certainly ones that I've always felt quite strongly about but people have to read them make their own judgment. And it's up to them. It's up to the public part of this is about also not. You know to to really push back at this notion that the party's own voters. Oh, this is a labor seat or this is a conservative area parties shouldn't own voters. They should earn votes from people. And I think we need a little bit more challenge to say stop being complacent. We want to try and earn votes by engaging with people and their interests and their attitudes. And hopefully, we'll try we'll try and do that. But it won't be a straight won't be a straight line. There will be ups and downs. If people are looking for disagreements between those of us who've come together, I'm sure they will be able to find them the nature of being an independent group is that we are going to take different stances between us, but I think we'll be able to tolerate those because in normal life people can tolerate different opinions. But somehow along the road, certainly within the labour party tolerance became forbidden. And you had to literally sign oaths of loyalty this past weekend to the great leader, and in a very intolerant environment, and that cultural changes of really really strong part of what we want to try and achieve that was Chris Leslie MP of the independent group.