1 Episode results for "Chris Liz Levi"
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. The populist eruptions of recent years have been widely interpreted as a revolt against the centrism that prevailed in much of the western world around the turn of the twenty first century. Is it possible that electorates are starting to wonder if burning it all down really is a better means of improving things than making running repairs to discuss this? I'm joined in the studio by the political commentator Nina's Schick, and by Sean Kemp, who was head of media for the Liberal Democrats for much of the period that they were in a governing coalition with the conservatives from two thousand and ten to two thousand fifteen Nina, let's start first of all with the basics. What even is centrism? I think you can broadly define it as a style of doing politics, and that being you know, one based on consensus one based on an assessment of the facts one based on compromise. Traditionally, of course, in the European political context, this is much more common than in the British kind of. Two party system. You know, there's compromise as you have complicated, coalitions, etc. But I do think when we talk about centrism or the death of centrism what we are also talking about is the rise of ideologues. And I think it is true. Not only in the case of Britain where we see this. You know, head banging crazy right side of the conservative party versus the ultra ideological coordinator movement. But it is true. Also across the European continent. I would argue across the western world on both the left and the right. So by that token, I'm gonna say centrism is basically the style of technocratic expert lead consensus politics making which seems to be on the win Hsun when you were working for the coalition government here in in the UK, which I guess people would have you could maybe thought think of as a center right coalition. Did it strike you that there was something to that? That was an attempt to detach politics from audio legit. I'm just trying to think if that's. A way of describing centrism I think in the coalition you can say, you were detach in politics from ideology because I mean, there are lots of arguments and debates to very ideologically driven from both sides, but decisions the conservative party would want to make that much more of our audiology than we would all facts and same from the twenty there's always element of ideology there. I think what he's trees by the nature of a coalition it forces you to do thing for longtime. I think people always argue the politics was about which is compromise. You had to compromise the hat to be some some form of back and forth that was kind of the nature of the government. That was how it had to work for anything to happen. I think what seeing not just post coalition post crash, or whenever the data is when it starts and increasing impatience with people with that idea of compromise. The idea of the sort of the expert lead view since of coming to be held in contempt that sense that you give any ground these stopping ideologically. Pure has lost any power is lost Lotte sway over people. And that's where I think these of centrism is an insult partly comes from because it's come to mean being the wishy washy not really standing up what he believe in as opposed to put I think people are sort of so proponents of that kind of at UB about what is about rational policy making. And he's hauled to campaign on being rational policymaker. You know, these great slogans go in and go, well, actually, it's a bit more complicated. Very hard. And I and I think seeking UK the Liberal Democrats and anyone useful Caesar's centuries Blairite wing lay parties on half cells on the back foot, partly because of that Nina is there something in though that when people talk about how populism in Europe in particular has been a response to the failure of centrism. Is that right, or is is there something about people just wanting their politics to be exciting. Or even just entertaining. That people don't have the patience to listen to technocratic expert saying to them, actually, this is quite complicated. It's not as easy as it looks. It may take some time to work this one out be patient it cetera. There is certainly an element of truth to the argument that, you know, people have been let down by politicians, and we can go back to the financial crash, and we can look at the kind of growing levels of income disparity across the western world, nonetheless, I think if you take a historical view of the political system, which we are lucky enough to enjoy in. In the western world. And you look at the past seventy years America's century America leaning in the world and the kind of twin freedoms of capitalism, free markets and liberal democracy. Those ideas, I believe are coming under threat, and that is playing out in our politics in a way, where the alternative the alternative to this kind of rational pulse. He led politics is something that's far worse. If you look at the past seventy years in history that is the biggest historical and normally in human civilization when people say, you know, oh, we've been left behind and globalization has been such a terrible thing. I mean, thank God. We're not living in the thirteenth century. Thank god. Do not living in the dark ages. I come from South Asia. Thank god. We don't live in a political system like people in my country after live in. So I think people are so confident that democracy is so resilient that when they complain. And some the complaints many of the complaints are justified many of the. Things are justified. I think they don't consider what the alternatives are. And can become is possible shown in this was a theory are constructed bicycles. We will walking into the studio. So it may not hold a great deal of voter wedding tested. But it isn't arguable that that centrism if we go back to thinking of the late nineties, perhaps as the golden age of that the Blair Clinton third way is it arguable that that was perhaps the populism of its day. If you will because I do recall, the especially Tony Blair's rhetoric when he was leader of the opposition here in the there was quite a lot of burnt all down start again years zero rhetoric in that as well was it the public some of its day, maybe since it was very popular. I think the truth is there is a cyclical nature to this. And there's some isn't sick. It's more lenient cyclical thing, I think is the kind of politics becoming about two camps and then moving much more being in the middle. If you Prescott British politics, you can make Saint point by the fifth. Th-this about about schism, and so on and then people get sick that becomes more ideological and then go back in the middle. Again. There's there's that sick who nitro vet what I think is worrying is at just hearing about which is over time the linear part to that is no Rosen of would say of the democratic norms. We tend to disappoint you are just part of the game assaultive respect for facts. And acknowledgement that sometimes there is compromise. Those things are actually being slowly away. But people on both wings, actually, even even somewhat. I just got the most radical centrists Andrew donny's now. But when if you constantly attack journalists in the media, wrapped on the report, something you don't like your over time, your roading, some of the things actually a good liberal democracy for everyone is based on. So it is a weird mix. I think of the six ago and of of something else that's going on which is the rules of the game. That we've come to think over's, this is just how democracy works ease. Slowly being undermined. We saw take for granted a little bit too, much my opinion. It's. It's very early in this particular experiment in the United Kingdom. We don't really know yet. What the independent group of four as such probably know more about what they're against. But early polling and again, it's very early. Polling already puts them in double digits in terms of voter preference. Is that in itself an indication that in Britain, at least the political pendulum might actually be swinging back a bit towards the center that after the last three years of extraordinary upheavals on both sides of the house, which I think have been historically unusual in in British politics. It's not uncommon for one party or the other to be having a nervous breakdown in public. But I don't think it's happened before that they've both done it at the same time. It definitely taps onto a sentiment in amongst the public that neither big party represents them. So there is certainly a degree. I think amongst the public that they feel we have nobody that represents us in politics. And this is the independent group is is that. But I also think that actually what is more indicative of is the splitting of the politic all the fracturing of the political scenery. And not only is the political scenery fracturing. I believe that everyone in their faction is hardening. So everybody tends to become more ideologically driven the politics is very emotive. So less room for compromise. You see that here with both labour and the conservatives, but, you know, myself even as somebody who doesn't support Brexit one has to acknowledge that there is something to the argument that the kind of ultra remainder conservative MP's who left the conservative party in order to join the independent group on the issue of Brexit. You know, they can also be accused of being ideologues right purist. Because they they want to have the second referendum. So I think what's happening in British political life is fracturing of the political scenery less room for compromise and hardening of tribal positions, and I think we discussed whether this there's a cyclic. Nature to this. And I do believe to a certain extent, there's a cyclical nature of the fracturing then coming back to the center. But I think what is very interesting what we haven't discussed. Here yet is how technology and information has completely changed the game here because now with things like social media allowing anybody to inundate us with information, including foreign state actors or any kind of lobby interest group that is also now being reflected in how we do our politics that's hardening of political positions emotionally investing in something. And then being unable to pull back and compromise. Sean just going back to the independent group as it's called an and thinking about your own time in political communications, how hard to sell do you think this is going to be by which I mean, basically if if they were to ask you how to do that? What would you tell them pack teams can be quite hard sell. I mean at the moment is released Selby's about come much harder of going to be careful. I is of thinking resist enormous. Time well of paper about to vote for them. If you take where the Liberal Democrats are in the poll was in where the independent group is you get to about what twenty percent less less than that's less than going to twins tension election, for example. So a much that we're just seeing there. How many people there are in that sense left thing roughly where always has been there are few things they're going to have to do one is they need to raft of policy positions than any don't every mind setting you on things like taxings public services unit chess, and so on and inevitably when you come out some positions, you're gonna put people off the of relevance of it is much heart. Mris the Nitra. British politics is still to need some infrastructure. The white bridge politics was the electro system, it's hard Justice. So the start to party in yourself. You can't do Macron quite the same extent. It's quite hard just to right away of media coverage and even really good use of social media, or whatever you do still need people who just knock on those get people out to the ballot box and are almost gonna sort of. Mobilize you to be the top party in a load of constituency elections where it's winner takes all there's infrastructure. There's really boring dull work setting that out. The they are going to have to get the heads around quite quickly the need some totemic policies that can actually grab people with and then they need to get infrastructure sorted. And that's why I still do wonder about them is they're going to be some form of linkup with lib Dem's because I used to joke to friends of mine were in the party. Not. Yeah. You say the more time, look, we've got infrastructure now MP's you've got load of November as but no actually infrastructure. There was some way of solving this conundrum that has always made me wonder if at some point down the road, they might sort of do some pseudo formal link-up lib Dem's to almost take advantage. You do have these members and organization leaner fee, if we broaden our scope a bit more out towards Europe as a whole, do you think it's possible or indeed likely that we might start to see more of this kind of thing if we if we link, I suppose, the independent group to the the sudden arrival of president Emmanuel Macron in France that showing mentioned that we might start to see more pockets of of centrist insurrection around the continent particularly country like like Italy, which has embraced the full. Yahoo option and found that it's perhaps unsurprisingly not worked to Ripley will. So am I worked on Macron's campaign, and as shown already correctly pointed out, it would be virtually impossible to do what my did in France in in the United Kingdom because of our electoral system here in. In many other European countries. However, accept proportional representation. There's a whole variety of groups represented in parliament. But I think the big kind of trend you see in European politics is a okay. Yes. The rise of the far. Right. So particularly parties like the AFC in Germany on issues driven by migration. But you also see the rise of the far left on economic policies such as in Spain in Greece. So again, you see the splintering of the political scenery. And what you also see as a common. Kind of hallmark of European politics is the absolute decimation of the social Democrats, they're doing terribly everywhere. So you have a kind of more hard left Corbin type politics across Europe as well as well as a hard, right? So you could almost draw the same parallel as what you see on a very base level. What you see in Britain? You know, the E R G slash coordinates. You see that those same trends in Europe as well. But because of the way that they're. Electoral systems are set up. It just means that all these coalitions are going to go into parliament together. Would you consider say one between ironic thing that makes it even harder for the new party, which is the me out to have European elections and EMMY peas because that was proportional system. You could get people in the European parliament. And you would get a not inconsiderable out money for having those people in the European parliament. That's how you managed it. The didn't get reputation in parliament. But they're able to get potent system in the European parliament and get the financial benefits of that. That's about to vanish does that gets Brexit makes it even harder to launch a centrist party just as a final thought, Nina because we are running out of time, unfortunately, which European countries and you can include Britain surveys strike you as perhaps most likely in the near future to to to fall to the centrist menace. God the way to answer your question is that actually across Europe, you're going to see far more fractured, politics and the political debate in all of our. Countries is going to become far more divisive. So worse before it gets better. And I don't think there's going to be any great centrist movement. I think Emmanuel Macron was desirous of that. And I don't think we'll see that returning for awhile. Lena shook an shown can't thank you both very much for joining us. That's it for this episode of the foreign desk where back next week and look out for the foreign desk. Explainer available every Wednesday. The foreign desk is produced by yawning Goffin and Bill Lucci. Bill also edits the program with help this week from mainly Evans and special. Thanks to Reese, James, my name's Andrew Miller. Thanks very much for listening until next time. Goodbye.