May 27, 2022 - 1:51pm

I regret to inform you that the centrists are at it again. Trying to break the mould of British politics, that is. According to a report by Eleni Courea for Politico, the latest talk of a new centrist party is linked to a think tank called the Britain Project: “The half a dozen individuals who spoke to POLITICO made clear that the Britain Project was definitely not a new party — but none would entirely rule out it becoming one in future”.

Emmanuel Macron’s La Republic En Marche movement is mentioned as an inspiration — and, as Courea notes, LREM started off as a think tank before becoming a fully fledged political party. But what would a British LREM — Le Royaume-Uni En Marche — need to succeed?

First of all, a purpose. Pollsters sometimes record a public appetite for a new centre-ground party. But as the ill-fated Change UK found out in 2019, that’s not enough. Indeed, when YouGov polled people on different ways of fixing British politics, the formation of new party was one of the least popular options.

For most people, a new party just means more politics — which they don’t see the point of. That’s in contrast to the French situation in 2017, when the mainstream parties were falling apart and the extremists were surging. There was a demand for a new force to hold the centre — and Macron supplied it. 

And that brings us to the the second thing that a British LREM would need: leadership. The names associated with the Britain Project — Rory Stewart, Philip Collins, Nicola Horlick etc. — would make for a perfectly pleasant dinner party, but not a disruptive political movement. 

Next month, the Britain Project gets together with the Tony Blair Institute to organise the Future of Britain conference. Apparently, the event will be hosted Emily Maitlis and Jon Sopel of the BBC and the key note speaker will be Tony Blair himself.

Now here we do have a disruptive political leader. But unfortunately for those waiting for a British Macron, we’re in the 2020s not the 1990s. Blair is more R.E.M. than LREM. 

In fact, many of the things that most urgently need to be changed about this country — including wage stagnation, the housing crisis, the exploitation of cheap migrant labour, the eclipse of UK manufacturing and over-reliance on global supply chains — have deep roots in the New Labour years. 

The third thing that a British LREM needs is a friendly electoral system. Macron’s political movement was perfectly positioned to exploit the special features of the French system, which disproportionately favours high-profile centrists. The closest the British ever came to similar arrangement was the AV referendum in 2011, when the voters decisively rejected reform to stick with first-past-the-post.

The other time we might have got it was in 1998, when the Jenkins Commission recommended a system called AV plus — under which a new centrist party might have thrived. However, this was rejected by the Prime Minister at the time. You know the one.

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.