A good friend – also involved in the political centre ground – summed up the past year in the words of the once great John Cleese: “It’s not the despair. I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand.”
It has become a Radix tradition in our New Year message to pick a word of the year. This year it is “hope”.
This past year has been a year of hope for the centre ground of British politics.
Back in February, the launch of Change UK promised much, but ultimately delivered less than nothing, not only failing to break the mould of British politics, but reinforcing the impression for others intent on the same path that the mould could not even be dented.
Throughout the year, Tom Watson privately insisted over and again that he was just waiting for the right moment to launch a full bloodied fight-back against the Trotskyite tendency which has taken control of his party.
In March, in response to the launch of Change UK, he founded the Future Britain Group to act as a Big Tent for supporters of Blair and Brown to head off further defections and as a vehicle to retake the Labour party. In the process, he killed off the hopes of Change UK, while failing to achieve lift-off for his alternative. Watson’s announcement in November that he was standing down from Parliament put pay to any suggestion that this would be a vehicle for anything.
In June, Rory Stewart’s insurgent campaign for the Conservative leadership excited the press and the commentariat, but not his Parliamentary colleagues. Ultimately, his survival even through the first two rounds of voting, was deceptive: the suggestion of momentum a mirage brought on by tactical voting by Gove’s backers. The Conservative party remained firmly in thrall to the alt-right as their moderates were mostly pushed before they could jump.
Meanwhile, the Lib Dems appeared to go from strength to strength: sweeping the local elections in May and coming second to the Brexit party in the European elections in June, before briefly topping the opinion polls less than six months ago.
In September, as defectors arrived from left and right, there was a growing anticipation that Brexit could indeed be reversed. In the end, however, all was hubris. It was the hope what killed them.
So what grounds for a radical centre think tank in choosing “hope” as our word of year for 2020?
First, because our mission has never depended on the success or otherwise of one or other political party. Our aspiration is radical reform and this is by far the most radical Conservative government ever elected. This is a government for which constitutional reform – essential to system renewal – is on the agenda: abolition of the House of Lords; reform of Commons and the courts; the shape of the Union or even the continuation of the Union – all are live questions.
Many of us from the centre ground may not agree with their initial conclusions on all or indeed any in any of these areas, but the debate in hopeful, and there to be influenced.
Second, because Britain has been stuck for the past three years since the Brexit referendum: incapable of progress not just on the European issue, but on almost any front. While I’d guess that most Radix followers will disagree with withdrawal, Johnson is now in sole charge of the Brexit process – he must own the outcome, for good or ill.
And he has a majority that will allow him to make progress in other areas too. And where there are new policies, there is always an opportunity to exercise influence over them.
And third, there are areas of policy in which a radical centre viewpoint has the potential to be influential. What does a post-Brexit Britain look like? How does a party that asserts a belief in small government, really give local people power in determining taxes, public services and governance? How are the huge sums pledged during the general election campaign to revive our country and rebuild our infrastructure effectively spent to achieve lasting impact and renewal?
This looks like quite a radical agenda for a radical centre think tank to get its teeth into, with much to excite our thousands of supporters and followers on our website and social media.
I hope you will help us to put together a radical agenda for 2020. Because never has a revival of the radical centre been more needed.