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Thursday 17 August 2017

Owen Jones - Pointless Centrism

Seemingly from nowhere, those on the left have a new bĂȘte 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 ideologueshe 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.


john riches said...

Tim, it's in reply to Nick Cohen and friends, so needs to be read in that context following their Twitter spat. Still largely pointless though, as is you following it up. Nobody cares.

By the way, we can't 'not do' Brexit, as we've sadly triggered Article 50 - so not even what we currently have is on the table.

Anonymous said...

There's another take on this.

For years now we've endured all the Yankified propaganda bullshit about "the middle class" and "the centre ground of politics". So isn't it about time someone exposed it for the shite it is?

Jones might have overcooked the pot a bit. But not by much.

After all, such "centrism" (or any term you want to give it) has tolerated mass murdering wars in distant countries and division and root and branch institutional corruption here.

The fact is the current definition of "the centre ground of politics" is the muck peddled by the likes of the "middle England" Daily Mail. That is, about as far right as you can go witout being openly fascist. The same applies across much of the West.

Owen Jones has made a good but slightly flawed attempt to set the record straight. If the Oxbridge/Westminster/Whitehall gang had even half his courage we might, just might, start to restore decency and fairness.

But don't hold your breath. The cultural damage is severe. Tim's half arsed anaemic response shows why.

Anonymous said...

I think it's probably a reaction to the fact that Owen Jones has spent the last few weeks being dog piled on Twitter by self declared "centrists" whose obsession with stopping Brexit has blinded them to anything else. Being repeatedly accused of being a Brexiteer or supporting the Tories or wanting to see EU nationals deported, by people who are supposed to be on the same political side as him, has clearly got to him, and I'm not surprised. As probably the leading voice of the left in the mainstream media he's an easy target for anyone who feels that their vision of left wing politics is not being supported. And this so on top of the horrific homhobic abuse and violent threats that he receives daily from the right. I really would cut him some slack on this one.

Unknown said...

"Centrists" are a manufactured bogeyman, taking the blame for concepts that overran virtually all dimensions of political thought.

You never find the same commentators writing any kind of mea culpa when their particular political dimension previously tolerated the rampant sex and race discrimination that dominated the political spectrum only a few decades ago.

No - that got labelled "society's problem" and conveniently brushed under the carpet.

Anonymous said...

So OJ has a solution as to why Lib Dems got stuffed in the last election. What is his explanation for every other time they've achieved less than stellar results (ie every election in my lifetime)?. He also appears blithely unaware that Corbyn's Brexit stance came as a shock to many naive Labour voters. One in 3 of them considered Brexit the most important issue in the election, more than mentioned the economy or the NHS. I saw dewy eyed predictions on social media that of course Jeremy would stop it all. I think they'd be a bit surprised that being a Brexiteer is now a sine qua non of being truly left.

Unknown said...

I think Stumbling and Mumbling has it right...

"Centrists are right to oppose Brexit. What they don’t appreciate, however, is that they themselves helped to create the conditions which led to the vote to leave."


rob said...

"“‘Centrism’ is a misleading term which should be abandoned, though a viable alternative term is lacking"

Scylla and Charybdism? A Westminster Alternate Space Oddity.