Why the Lib Dems will benefit from rival centre parties – in the end…


At one of my family gatherings over Christmas, I found myself arguing a somewhat radical position about what is likely to happen to the shape of politics in the UK over the course of this new year.

I was a little surprised at myself, having not previously been aware that this is what I thought. Yet there is a kind of logic to it. On the other hand, most people I talked to regard it as contradictory rather than neatly paradoxical.

My contention is that, once the Brexit question has been resolved in parliament one way or the other – such a possibility seems unlikely now but it must happen sooner or later – the Labour Patty will divide. I accept that this depends partly on what Jeremy Corbyn does over the next few weeks, but we have to assume that he will continue to sit on the fence.

So far, so good. I also accept that this is hardly an original thought. My next contention is that, without the threat of a Corbyn government, there will be nothing together the various sides of the Conservative Party together either. If you listen to the barely concealed contempt behind what Michael Heseltine says in his broadcast appearances, I don’t believe any political organisation can survive divisions like that.

Again, this is not exactly a new idea. Where I think I am sticking my neck out is that the arrival in Westminster of one or possibly to new centre parties can help the Lib Dems.

Conventional thinking suggest that this can only undermine, but the opposite may be true. There is nothing like the arrival of two rival operations, both dedicated to dull conformity, preserving the existing order and mediation in all things, may exactly what the Lib Dem doctor ordered. As long as they understand that they are not – and certainly should not have to be – a moderate centre party.

Especially, perhaps, when voters across Europe appear to be in flight for any such thing. This may in fact be exactly what Lib Dems need to force them to do a bit of thinking, once they have picked themselves up from the shock – realising (I hope) that the two issues which have dominated the narrative in the UK for the last century or so (international trade, state versus private control) have mainly been resolved by most of the world and it is time to move on. Why, after all, would anyone serious about change want to listen to parliament to continue their endless, pointless conversation about them.

No, mark my words, by the middle of this year, there will be six national political parties represented in Westminster (including the Greens). But only one of them will be working towards what the UK urgently needs: the radical devolution of power. This will be the Lib Dems.

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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.


  1. Barry Cooper says

    But what if de-growth were to become the new reality, as seems quite possible within the next few years?

    Somewhere I have read the notion that when the centre collapses the periphery becomes the new centre!

  2. Laurence Cox says

    FPTP is what holds both Conservative and Labour parties together. If either split and the other didn’t, then the latter Party would win a landslide. That was the real lesson of 1983. Without PR, whether that is STV or AV+ (the Roy Jenkins’ solution) there is not enough political room for six national parties. In 2015 Alasdair McDonnell (SDLP) won Belfast South with just 24.5% of the vote and there are usually several seats each GE that are won with less than 33.3% of the vote.

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