Peter Mandelson weighed into a long-standing debate on Monday. Photo: Getty
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Have we become more left-wing?

Where is the centre ground in British politics? A recent comment from Peter Mandelson, a once powerful and still perennial political figure, has sparked another round of answers to this eternal question.

Yesterday Peter Mandelson suggested the Labour Party are tacking too far to the left under Ed Miliband.

They must “not simply keep driving an agenda of our own regardless of the electorate’s views”, he declared. The electorate has not “moved to the left”, as Ed Miliband’s team have been credited with thinking.

A long-time Labour lieutenant, Mandelson was a minor secretary of state but central consigliere under Tony Blair in the 1990s. After a stint as European Commissioner in the mid-2000s following one scandal too many, he returned to frontline politics before the last election as once-nemesis Gordon Brown’s First Secretary of State and supposed saviour.

He has effectively been involved in every general election since 1987. If any political operative has a sense of the political centre, Mandelson may.

But, unsatisfied by his employment history, some noted bloggers today called for Mandelson to substantiate his claims. As one put it, “If winning the centre ground is so important I assume Mr Mandelson can measure it.....or locate it.....or identify it?”

He may not be able to, but recent research provides some insight into the issue – and dates back all the way to the 1950s.

The data substantiates the notion of a great ideological divide throughout the 1980s, as Margaret Thatcher took the Tory party away from something of a post-war consensus. 

Equally, the Labour Party remained far to the left of the electorate until 1997, when Tony Blair – and Mandelson – dragged the party towards the centre.

The chart also shows that we as voters move, albeit less than parties. In 1950 the electorate were more left-wing than in the late 1970s, when a decade of disruption allowed Thatcher to rise to power. By 1997 voters had swung back to the left as they soured on the right after nearly two decades of Conservative rule.

The academics behind this data go so far as to suggest the electorate move in precisely the opposite direction to the government. In other words, we begin to move away from the party we elected as soon as they start to do the things we elected them to do.

To return to Mandelson’s contention, there is some indication this has happened under the coalition. The electorate does appear to have moved slightly to the left.

This data shows that is exactly what we should expect. Politics – or at least the political mood – does appear to move in cycles.

 

[1] Party positions are calculated using their election manifestos. The electorate’s stance is determined from responses to a series of questions on issues such as taxes, unemployment, inequality and Europe.

 

This is a preview of May2015.com, an affiliated site launching later this year. You can find us on Twitter.

 

Harry Lambert was the editor of May2015, the New Statesman's election website.

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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear