Seemingly from nowhere, those on the left have a new bête noire called Centrism. This concept, whatever it may be, is taxing some pundits sorely, and one of the sorest who is unswervingly opposed to Centrism is Owen Jones. And here he has made a bad mistake.
I have a lot of time for Owen: there are few left-leaning voices allowed into the otherwise closed world of the Pundit Establishment, and he is one of them, but his new obsession with Centrism is just baffling, almost a caricature of his writing.
“Centrists attack the left, but they are the true ideologues” he proclaims. How does he know? “To be a centrist, so this story goes, is to be above ideology: pragmatic, focused on ‘what works’, being grown up”. Following you so far … but then he loses it. “In this centrist worldview, the xenophobic, racist or indeed fascist right are deemed to be politically and morally equivalent to the radical left”. Would this be the “Alt-Left”, by any chance? That’s got stuff all to do with “Centrists” - it’s a right-wing diversionary tactic. To be ignored.
And soon he decides we should dispense with the concept: “‘Centrism’ is a misleading term which should be abandoned, though a viable alternative term is lacking: bearers of the ‘centrist’ flame regard ‘neoliberal’ or ‘Blairite’ as abusive rather than descriptive terms”. Well, for some on the left, they are abusive rather than descriptive terms, that’s why.
Have another go. “But centrists aren’t pragmatists, they’re ideologues, extolling a blend of market liberalism, social liberalism and - more often than not - a hawkish military posture”. How did market liberalism and social liberalism become the things of ideologues? And where is this military posture stuff coming from?
“Claims of moderation in a British context do not readily sit with helping to unleash the murderous, never-ending bloody chaos in Iraq and Libya”. Ah, so this is a way of damning those MPs who unwisely committed the UK to messing in Libya without any kind of exit strategy or reconstruction plan. Not anything to do with Centrism, then.
“But it is the economic order centrists defend that produced the insecurity and stagnation”. Ah, so it is about economics, then. And we need no new language for that - it’s just what the Tories, with the most unwise participation of the Lib Dems, inflicted on us.
But on he goes: “In Britain, there is growing chatter about a new centrist party. This, at a time when more than 80% of the electorate voted for a left-led Labour party or the Brexiteer Tories, the two parties’ highest combined share of the vote for nearly half a century, in an election in which the anti-Brexit centrist Liberal Democrats flopped”. Well, more than 80% of that part of the electorate that voted, anyway.
So this new party would be DOA - what’s he worried about? Ah, but now we get to the main event, and it isn’t about Centrism: “It is revealing that the disgruntled centrists offer virtually no clues about their vision other than opposing Brexit”. If we want to stop Brexit, Jones contends, we need a better strategy. Fine. We have one. It’s called Don’t Do It.
“Centrism” is an excellent opportunity for Owen Jones to build an extra large Straw Man in order to knock it down. Otherwise, this is a pointless exercise in misdirection. As ever, the enemy of the left is not in the centre, but on the right. Have a think about it, Owen.