In April this year, news broke that there may be a new “centrist” party funded in part by LoveFilm founder Simon Banks and mooted to include the backing of Tony Blair and David Miliband, as well as other wealthy donors.
At the time, this was received with little fanfare and generally regarded as unlikely to happen, akin perhaps to a wealthy entrepreneur stating his or her interest in bidding for an unnamed Premier League football club, it had not yet reached the stage where anybody takes it seriously.
However, recent news has suggested that it may be time to sit up and take notice.
A Labour break up
Two weeks ago, independent news site Skwawkbox exclusively revealed that a Labour MP from the East Midlands area had told constituents at a constituency labour party meeting that a group of 12-20 Labour MPs are due to imminently announce their ‘splitting off’ to form a new centrist party.
Skwawkbox and the rest of the media are now reporting that Vince Cable may be involved in a potential marriage between the Lib Dems (or certain members of the Lib Dems) and this new centrist party. Cable has added fuel to this fire with a subsequent “non-denial”.
Whatever shape this particular venture takes, it appears there may be a new box capable of being ticked on your voting card at the next general election, and so we ask: what will this mean for Labour and Corbyn at the next election?
A strong labour party
First, let’s look back at the last election, in which Corbyn’s Labour, in the face of an historic smear campaign by the media and even Labour MPs, secured Labour’s biggest gain in vote share since Clement Attlee in 1945, transforming the Labour Party into a viable opposition.
Support for the party has not slowed down since the election, with a recent Opinium poll for the Observer putting Labour on 40%, with the Tories at 36%; the biggest Labour lead since shortly after the general election.
Since Corbyn became leader, Labour Party membership has risen from 200,000 to roughly 570,000, which potentially makes Labour the biggest political party in Western Europe.
In short, the Labour Party has the best chance of election since New Labour’s demise, so why are “12-20” Labour MPs apparently so keen to shift to the right and potentially start a new party?
The answer is that the Labour party was, in previous years, co-opted by the centre-right, culminating in the Blair administration taking the party away from its natural position as one which fights for the rights of the working and middle classes against the inherent inequalities produced by unfettered capitalism.
Many in the parliamentary Labour party, in contrast to the Labour membership and the general public, are still married to a Blairite neo-liberal agenda and this does not match with Labour under Corbyn and so, as they cannot win democratically (i.e. by challenging his party leadership again), they have been attempting, via failed coups and endless smear campaigns, to claw back the leadership of the party.
This battle continues, with recent smears being made by Wes Streeting MP, John Woodcock MP upon his resignation and most notably by Margaret Hodge MP who has reportedly doubled-down on calling Jeremy Corbyn an “anti-semitic racist” following a decision by Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) to approve the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism into its code of conduct on 17 July, but with some potential amendments to examples of antisemitic behaviour that could have inadvertently led to legitimate criticism of Israel being deemed as anti-semitic.
One Jewish professor on Twitter saw through the smear tactics when he replied to Margaret Hodge MP as follows:
In conflating considering a slightly amended definition of antisemitism (about which there is not even full agreement within the Jewish community) with actually being anti-semitic, Hodge demonstrated the depths that some MPs will sink to in order to undermine Corbyn’s leadership.
What’s on offer?
Streeting, Hodge, Woodcock and the other potential 20 Labour MPs thinking of joining forces with Blair, Miliband, Cable and this new centrist party do not really believe that Jeremy Corbyn is a communist, a spy for the soviet union or that he wants to take us back to the ’70s, these are just the exaggerated lies they spread in order to try to convince the public not to trust Jeremy Corbyn.
This is absolutely necessary as a tactic by those who wish to maintain the status quo, because they cannot argue against the logic, merits and popularity of the progressive manifesto that the Labour party is offering, such as re-nationalising the rail network and part of the energy market, capping household fuel bills, more public holidays, better workers’ rights, the abolishment of tuition fees and reintroduction of maintenance grants, proper funding for the NHS, the introduction of a National Care Service, a real carer’s allowance, a ban on zero-hours contracts and unpaid internships, employers being banned from only recruiting from overseas, the implementation of a real living wage, more paternity and maternity leave and protections, a ban on fracking, a 20:1 limit on the gap between the highest and lowest paid workers in any company wishing to have a Government contract, a triple-lock on pensions, rent rises capped at inflation; I could go on for a lot longer.
What will the new centrist party offer except for Hillary Clinton-esque empty campaign slogans, clichés and virtue signalling? We don’t yet know, but we can guess nothing but the same type of “Tory-lite” that failed to win Ed Miliband an easily winnable election against David Cameron.
The new centrist party’s main goal may perhaps be simply to prevent a Corbyn government from being realised, to ensure that no government actually governs for the benefit of the electorate and not just corporations and the rich, even if that means splitting the vote and potentially keeping the Tories in power.
Drawing a line between Jeremy Corbyn and the Conservative Party still puts you firmly on the centre-right when you forget the labels and concentrate on the policy. Since when did not deliberately underfunding education, the NHS, policing and other public programmes become ‘radical’? Reallocating expenditure towards institutions and programs that society needs rather than spending on tax cuts for corporations and trusts, bailing out bankers and waging needless wars is neither radical nor left-wing. These are policies that reside in the centre of politics, but you will likely not find the new ‘centrist’ party supporting them.
Heading for change
Since the 80’s in particular, the business class (those who own and run large corporations) and the political class (those who inhabit positions of political power) have merged and the net effect is that politicians in general now simply serve big business and not the people. This is true throughout the West, in particular.
When it comes to regulation of big business and macroeconomic policy there has been little difference between most parties to hold office. Of course, the rhetoric is not the same, but the policy often is.
No party has ensured that the rich pay their fair share in taxes, all parties have overseen a dilution of workers’ rights and all parties have been equally eager to facilitate the sale of weapons to despotic regimes abroad.
We have now reached the point that, with varying degrees of accuracy, the majority of the working and middle classes realise that they have not been getting a fair deal and are begging for change. Brexit was an example of this, as was Trump, as is the surge in support for the left and the right.
It is not clear in which direction the political pendulum will swing, but change is coming and in order to prevent it politicians around the world are stepping up the distraction tactics, the propaganda and the trickery to keep working people fighting amongst themselves, rather than recognising the real cause of the current inequality we face and following that logic to vote for a party with an agenda similar to Labour’s today.
However brazen they may be, the smear campaigns do have an effect and there are therefore many, many people in the UK who will gladly vote for a new centrist party because they despise Corbyn for his perceived radicalness or even believe he is a communist or traitor of some description.
Along with those misinformed voters are those who have been manipulated by neo-liberal propaganda to believe that it is the “other” who is the source of all of their problems and if we only restore the nation to its former world-leading glory, bring back our indefinable “British culture” and kick out all the foreigners, everything will be amazing again.
This latter category, according to recent polls, makes up a significant portion of the population. One poll carried out by YouGov on behalf of the Sunday Times suggests that around 38% of people would vote for a new right-wing party that is more committed to a hard-Brexit than the Conservatives as of today, but more worryingly, almost 25% would support an explicitly far-right, anti-immigrant, anti-Islam party.
Unavoidable assent of Boris Johnson
What the poll also revealed, is that only 16% of voters back May to handle Brexit, whilst 34% would prefer Boris Johnson, who recently resigned as foreign secretary.
With talk of yet another new political party surfacing to take advantage of this surge in right-wing populism by filling the void left for those who are fanatical about a hard-Brexit, it is patently clear that in order to avoid a crushing defeat at the next general election the Tory party has no choice but to replace Theresa May with Boris Johnson, or another hard-Brexiteer such as Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Another hung parliament and no steps forward
If there is to be a general election in the near future, it is likely that we will see Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour vs a new centrist party (including or excluding the Lib Dems as we know them today) and a reinvigorated Conservative Party with a fresh narrative about saving Brexit, under Boris Johnson.
Even accounting for Tony Blair’s potentially toxic involvement in any new party, it is undoubtedly true that Labour’s vote would be split and Corbyn would have to pull off a miracle to win an outright majority.
Whether or not Corbyn could form a coalition is irrelevant, because any coalition would be prevented from implementing the agenda needed to tear the Government away from the controlling hands of the corporate world.
That in itself would be a victory for the proposed centrist party and its backers and defeat for the interests of the ordinary voter. If their propaganda cannot be widely exposed, the prospect of a real progressive government is likely to be diminished for the foreseeable future.