The case for a new centrist political party in Britain
There has been a lot of talk in Britain about the need for a new centrist political party. Political commentator Janan Ganesh talks to FT editor Lionel Barber about whether this is something that could happen.
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There's a lot of talk these days about the need for a new centre party in Britain. Janan Ganesh, our political commentator, has done a lot of thinking and writing about this subject. Janan, is this really something that could happen, a new party somewhere between Corbyn's Labour party and Theresa May's Conservative party?
Well, ever since Emmanuel Macron was elected president of France in 2017 at the head of a completely new centre party, sympathisers in this country have wondered whether they could pull off the same trick. And the problem is that the French electoral system is completely different. It's presidential. We have a parliamentary system where you field candidates in 600-plus constituencies.
And there's also a pretty strong partisan tradition in this country. The Labour party dates back to the Industrial Revolution and the emergence of a working class. The Conservative party is one of the oldest in the democratic world. And so you're trying to break through a lot of cultural, but also structural resistance in the British system.
And how much is this driven by Brexit, the idea that somehow Brexit throws all the cards in the air, you have a realignment with a new, perhaps, centrist but also pro-European party?
Brexit has everything to do with this. Because even though Remain lost the referendum, it was a 48% share of the vote, which is big enough - if you translate that into a general election - to win a sweeping victory. Now, no centre party would win all 48% but they could aspire to winning over quite a lot of voters who are middle of the road, not phenomenally pro-European, but on balance nervous about Brexit. And those voters feel unrepresented either by Labour or the Conservatives right now.
The additional problem with the centre party, of course, is that you can set one up now because you feel that these kinds of votes are not being represented by the two main parties. And all it takes is for one of those two parties to change a little bit and move towards the centre and suddenly the purpose of the new policy ceases to exist. And so you're incredibly vulnerable to events.
But the other point, of course, is where's the Trump, where's the Macron in British politics right now?
Yeah, I think people in my profession tend to underrate how important just a pure human element is. And in France what they had was - whatever you think of him and his policies - a pretty impressive individual who had, had some ministerial experience under Francois Hollande, but was young enough and original thinking enough to represent the future in Macron. There is no obvious equivalent of him in this country. So some of the politicians we've been-
And he was running in a presidential campaign, obviously.
Completely. And he didn't have to - he could build a posse retrospectively, having won the presidential campaign rather than having to build a party in advance. But there's no equivalent of him in this country. People are talking about Nick Clegg, the former deputy prime minister, David Miliband, who used to be foreign secretary. And these are people who I think might be, in the public eye, is a bit shopworn and a bit over familiar to them.
I'd like to offer you one suggestion for a new face in British politics, somebody who's soon going to be out of a job, perhaps, Arsene Wenger, somebody who speaks fluent English, but also European, having led Arsenal to near oblivion this season.
Well, President Macron makes it his mission to bring back talented French ex-pats from London. I can think of at least one in the Islington area who might be available to move this summer.
Janan Ganesh, thank you so much.