The centre has won again – but where’s the radical bit?

The Tories will win the upcoming election. They will do so either handsomely or shockingly – with a majority of more than 100 seats. They will primarily win on the basis that many voters see nobody else credible to vote for. In the land of the blind and so on.

Given that, this year’s the Tory manifesto tells us one thing only – the centre has won – once again. Tony Blair achieved his outstanding electoral success by dominating the policy centre ground and combining it with a leadership style that credibly embodied a re-vitalised, forward looking, modern Britain. Cool Britannia. Theresa May is pulling off the same trick. She is dominating the policy centre ground and combining it with a leadership style that says, you guessed it, ‘strong and stable’ – a slogan that is as credible coming out of her mouth as it would not have been coming out of David Cameron’s mouth.

The Tory manifesto is an embodiment of centrist policies. It will dismay the libertarian right and will not even be read by anyone on the socialist left. One chairman of a large corporation recently described our Radix recent paper on corporate governance as ‘pretty left wing.’ Laughable really. I suspect he will now be having nightmares about the Tory manifesto. No doubt he will see it as pure Marxism. But these perspectives come from people who do not live in, and have very little contact with, the real world. Theresa May’s manifesto – and it is very much her personal manifesto to an extent that, say, any leader of the Liberal Democrats could only dream about – is a thick blob of policies that spreads across a huge area of the political centre ground. Her only extreme positions are on Brexit and immigration. Everything else achieves a decent balance. Well, maybe grammar schools.

The net result is that the political centre ground will win this election without much effort. The disappointment comes in the shape of excessive caution. May is a cautious politician. Her manifesto fails to re-think Britain’s future in a radical enough way to prepare the country for the challenges ahead. Much of what is proposed represents a shift to the centre but it fails to break new ground. It lacks the bold imagination of the true reformer. Maybe that would have been a step too far for her party, many of whose members will consider the current manifesto radical enough. Maybe she has surrounded herself with advisers who, like her, can only think incrementally rather than being able to imagine a new world and then go out and create it.

Once May gets her majority and feels safe and secure (strong and stable even), will she dare to think more radically and address some of the more fundamental structural issues that affect Britain – much like Thatcher did albeit based on a very different ideology? We shall see whether May has it in her to transform Britain (other than through a disastrously extreme Brexit) or whether her skills are limited to winning an election by occupying a rather pedestrian centre ground in a political playing field that offers her little opposition.

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.

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