I read Owen Jones’s piece today in The Guardian, “A new centrist party is the far-right’s dream”.
I broadly agree with Mr Jones’ analysis that any centrist split could be a gift to hard-right strategists. But that might not be the most dangerous consequence of the centrist stance. The most dangerous part of their stance might be their enthusiasm for neoliberalism. Both parties, Labour and Conservative, are committed to honouring the result of the referendum. We keep being told we are defiantly, absolutely, positively, leaving the European Union. The only difference is the way we exit. The Labour leadership seems broadly in favour a soft exit. Maintain the benefits of the European Union, mainly frictionless trade and workers rights, without being a member. Government Conservatives, under the Chequers plan, seem to want the same thing (I think?). It’s definitely softer than hard-right Conservatives. They want to walk us off a cliff-edge. In that context the appeal of a centrist spit would be their pro-remain stance. Presumably it would attract MP’s from both parties, and damage both sides equally. The remain stand would appeal to the growing number of voters who realise leaving the European Union is going to have some very damaging consequences to their lives. As I said, the problem with this centrist stance is its neoliberal agenda. It wants to return us to the pre-election, pre-crash, status quo. And there lies its weakness. True, crashing out of the European Union would be a mistake. The cost of living will climb and climb and climb with no deal. So the centrist can argue with conviction that remaining part of the European Union is the lesser of two evils. The hard-right Conservative version of exit promises crisis capitalism that would make all but the wealthiest poorer in every way I can think of. Which makes the Labour leadership’s stance either incredibly astute or incredibly reckless. Let the Conservative party implode. Let the hard-right Conservatives go after the centrists because they want to remain in the European Union. I think the centrist are hoping the threat of a split will drag the Labour leadership towards them. It won’t. Because, what I have realised writing this, is that exiting the European Union isn’t just about exiting the European Union, it’s also about exiting neoliberalism. For Labour exiting the European Union may be a chance to draw a line under the neoliberal project. I could be wrong. I probably am. But psychological break with the European Union is a chance to move us towards a country run for the many not the few. That’s the astute part. The reckless part is letting the in all the chaos of negotiations the hard-right will be allowed to crash us out. They will then ramp up the hostile nationalism, allowing the profiteers to thrive.