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6 December 2018updated 09 Sep 2021 4:52pm

Centrism is in crisis – and the problem isn’t just our opponents

A project of centrist revival is badly needed. 

By Chris Coghlan

We all know what hard Brexiters stand for; a Britain in control of our laws, money and borders striking glorious trade deals around the world and echoing empire. We all know what Corbynites stand for; socialism, hammer the rich, nationalise the rail, “understand” anti-Western violence and oppose all Western wars.

No-one knows what centrists stand for, but everyone knows what they did: They decimated Iraq, crashed the economy, allowed mass immigration, slashed public services and condemned the next generation to being poorer and unable to own a house. It hardly matters if centrists condemn hard Brexiters and Corbynites as reckless fanatics because no one will listen after their own recklessness. Perhaps they stand for remaining in the European Union, but they forget that that also symbolises remaining with all of the above.

The trouble is that hard Brexiters and Corbynites are reckless fanatics. That is why I’m working with Nora Mulready, a political writer, on the Unfinished Revolution project. We are producing a series of films to showcase the ideas of some of the most exciting people in the new generation of the political mainstream; including Johnny Mercer MP, Jess Philips MP, Mathew d’Ancona and John Woodcock MP. We hope to help answer the question of what new centrists stand for, hold difficult conversations around issues like identity politics, and create a space for innovators to articulate their visions for 21st century Britain.

Because government for all people, based on reason, has never been more vital. The world is very different to the turn of the century where increasing democracy, prosperity and peace seemed inevitable. Instead Britain faces a series of potentially catastrophic threats in the coming decades, none of which are being adequately addressed by todays politicians:

Above all, extreme climate change. In October the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), found that governments need to cut emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees centigrade and avoid unmanageable climate change chaos. We are currently on track for well above 2 centigrade. If this plays out in coming decades mass drought and desertification in regions near the equator could potentially cause millions of deaths, unleash conflict, terrorism and massive migration. Britain and other industrial nations that benefited from climate change and then failed to stop it are likely to find ourselves on the wrong side of a conflict with these desperate people, condemned by history for causing untold human suffering.

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Then there is the failure of democratic capitalism itself: The UK has seen no significant rise in living standards since 2002, yet the economy is almost a third larger. All the gains have gone to the rich. Capitalism has failed on its most basic bargain; that inequality is tolerated in exchange for everyone being better off. These trends will only increase as the tech revolution provides capitalism’s proceeds to an ever-smaller group. Until this is addressed, the anger of people left behind will continue to drive our politics to extreme positions and Britain backwards.

And the risk of global conflict is returning. Since 1945 Britain has relied on a largely rules based international order underwritten by American might. Today the US is relatively far weaker and actively disinterested in protecting global security structures. Instead, strong countries are starting to prey on the weak. We are increasingly entering a dangerous new world of six competing great powers; a declining United States and a rising China alongside the EU, Japan, India, and Russia. Most of the cases in history of a rising power confronting a declining power have resulted in war.

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This then is the grim outlook we face if we fail to act. And why we hope projects like the Unfinished Revolution can help breathe life into a new generation of thought.

Chris Coghlan is a former diplomat and board member of the Unfinished Revolution. He tweets as @_chris_coghlan