A new centrist party?

With little political news over the Summer the media have entertained themselves with talk of new political parties. I have awaited the first poll to ask how people would vote if there was such a party with some trepidation. thus far it hasn’t turned up. Depending on how it is worded a poll question could either suggest triumph or disaster for such a venture. Either case should be ignored – polls asking about how people would vote in hypothetical situations aren’t particularly useful.

Back before the election YouGov asked a couple of questions asking how people would vote if the Labour party split into a centrist party and a Corbynite Labour party. That found Labour voters splitting fairly evenly between the two parties, with little impact elsewhere (a result that under FPTP would likely have delivered a Tory landslide). Of course that was a new party explicitly framed as a split within Labour. It it had been presented as a split from the Tory party, I expect it would have taken most support from them. A new party might actually seek to present itself as being made up of the centrists within both Labour and the Conservatives (though more important is how it would be seen by the public – how a party describes itself is not necessarily the same as how the public sees it), in which case it would have ambitions to take support from a wider pool.

As an explicit anti-Brexit party the first place to look for what support an anti-Brexit might receive is the EU referendum vote. 48% of people who voted in 2016 wanted to Remain. In more recent polls that group splits pretty evenly between Remainers who still think Brexit is a bad idea but that it should go ahead now the people have spoken, and Remainers who think that Brexit should be resisted and overturned. Some have suggested that this means the pool an anti-Brexit party is fishing in is only about 25%. I’d be less sure – at the moment we’re in a political situation where the political class has largely accepted the principle of Brexit and is arguing about the form it will take. Were that to be shaken up, were there a significant political force arguing for changing our minds, perhaps more of those who voted Remain would see it as something to be fought rather than accepted. Who knows?

A more negative consideration is what one thinks a new anti-Brexit party could offer that the Liberal Democrats aren’t already offering. Normally when there is speculation about new political parties it’s because there is a chunk of the electorate who support a political viewpoint that no party is representing – UKIP wanted to leave the EU when no other party did, the Greens offered an emphasis on the environment and anti-austerity that the other parties weren’t. We don’t have to ask hypothetical polling questions about how people would vote if there was a centrist, liberal, pro-European party standing…we already have a perfectly serviceable party of that description and they got 8% of the vote at the general election.

Ah, you might say, but this new party wouldn’t have the baggage of coalition that the Lib Dems have. Or it would have a better known and more substantial leader than Tim Farron. That may or may not be true, depending on who ended up being involved -serious political figures like Tony Blair or George Osborne would bring their own baggage. On the other hand, a new party wouldn’t have the local government or organisational base that the Liberal Democrats do.

The real difference between a new anti-Brexit party and the Liberal Democrats would be the political context and narrative. It is this that makes it impossible to predict from polling how any such party would do. If a party was set up by a couple of whohe’s it would likely sink without trace – if one looks through the register of political parties at the Electoral Commission you’ll find several new parties set up as pro-EU vehicles, and that none have had any impact. In contrast were twenty Conservative MPs and twenty Labour MPs to defect and form a new party, it would create a huge media buzz, there would be a lot of fuss and attention (needless to say, it would also deprive the government of a majority) and that would give it the potential to get a fair amount of support.

In judging these sort of hypothetical questions, I always look back to the polls we used to see in the final months of the Blair government, asking people how they would vote if Gordon Brown was leader. They would invariably show that Labour would perform less well under Gordon Brown. In the fullness of time Brown did take over, and Labour shot into a double digit lead as all the newspapers treated Brown like the second coming. The problem with those pre-Brown polls was that people couldn’t predict that wave of excitement and positive media coverage, couldn’t predict how they would react to it. Given the right people and media coverage, a new party could succeed to some degree (certainly the currently arithmetic in the Commons would make it comparatively easy for a party with Conservative defectors within it to make an impact). Whether it could be successful enough to actually retain or win seats and have a long term future is an entirely different matter – FPTP does not forgive smaller parties without concentrated support, the anti-Conservative vote is already split and the most pro-remain areas tend to be held by Labour.

In short, it could work in terms of upsetting the current narrative if not necessarily in electoral terms… or it could fall flat, but treat any polling questions asking how you would vote if X party existed with a huge pinch of salt. Without the context of the people involved and the political narrative around it, they simply aren’t good predictors.

699 Responses to “A new centrist party?”

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  1. Monochrome October

    I don’t particularly care for porridge, maybe we can water it down into some thin gruel?

    Would your ‘total economic blockade of Saudi Arabia’ extend to closing down all the Saudi-funded mosques which spread Wahhabi Islam?

  3. CMJ

    @”It is clear ISIS are are in decline within their ‘Caliphate’.”

    Yes-after much hard work & bloodshed by a coalition of nations.

    But I’m afraid cleaning them out of Iraq & Syria brings them much closer to us.


    Morocco is implicated in the Barcelona attacks. This article on Catalonia was written 5 years ago !


    The relief of Mosul & Raqqa will not make Europe safter-on the contrary.

    You’re getting ahead of yourself. I’d think an important first step would be to publish the report that was so carefully put together about the causes of terrorism.

  5. Alan: I don’t particularly care for porridge, maybe we can water it down into some thin gruel?
    You can have a hard porridge and thin gruel cake if you like and eat it too.

  6. Anthony Wells please could you approve my comments on the constituency threads as my posts don’t go through.

    Thank you very much.

  7. Monochrome October

    I have a different (better!) idea and it involves sausages!

    What’s the Wurst that could happen?

  8. There won’t be a new centrist party, even if Jacob Rees-Mogg becomes Tory leader (which I support).

    Most people remember the 80s, and the almost unstoppable Tory landslides owing to split opposition.

    We’ve returned to two-party politics and I don’t see that changing unless Article 50 is torn up (UKIP revival) or Brexit leads to a Japan 1990s-style crash.

  9. @Colin

    I’m sorry if you find that “this sort of stuff is so tedious.”

    I was responding to your criticism that in the EU ” Everything is defined by Process & Procedure.”

    If you find the topic so tedious, then the obvious solution is not to introduce it to this board in the first place.

    But you chose not to address my rebuttal of your point, but instead to focus on my suggestion that the EU and its rule-based modus operandi is “something not to be loathed, but welcomed as a beacon of enlightenment and rationalism.” You seem to have taken this generalised homily as an accusation that you loathe the EU. It’s not all about you, you know. One glance at BTL comments on any number of websites will show the degree of visceral loathing of the EU displayed (usually incoherently and illiterately) by many Brits.

    Anyway, your characterisation of the EU’s attitude as:

    “the principle that leaving has to be an absolute nightmare-pour encourager les autres.

    -and the principle that the bast*rds are going to cough up big time or we’ll be really short of the readies.”

    Does suggested a rather less than disinterested view.

  10. Alan: “What’s the Wurst that could happen?”

    They could tell you to burger off?

  11. Smiley ben

    I think we know why the report isn’t being published. Interestingly the 911 families group are also asking for the report to be released.


    Yes looking forward to eating porridge as we leave the EU. I have it most mornings already. The best porridge I have ever had was in O’Reilly’s Rainforest retreat in Australia. Served with double cream.
    You also got me smiling with happy memories.


    I certainly agree with you about the tedious nature of the EU worship which some seem to indulge in. To me it’s an interesting experiment which will ultimately fail and something to get out of as soon as possible.

    For those interested the cricket is going very well. Windie’s eight down at the first break.


    I don’t find the topic of EU & Brexit tedious-far from it.

    But I do find the Beacon of Enlightenment mantra tedious.

    .European Culture & Enlightenment stretches from Homer to Huygens; Sophocles to Shakespeare; The Venus of Willendorf to Velazquez . The list of names is astounding & their influence unparalleled .

    It is immortal & enduring & has sod all to do with the creation of the European Union-whose endurance & immortality is , as yet, untested.

    As to the rest of your post-its not my problem that there is “a degree of visceral loathing of the EU displayed by many Brits.”. I don’t even know if that is statistically true.

    But if it is -it is the EU’s problem.

  14. Erm, might we get a VI poll from YG as they put out the leader ratings?
    Do hope so.

  15. @Colin

    Can I recommend that you take a moment or two to read and consider posts before your shoot-from-the-hip responses?

    You’ve gone off at a wild tangent on European culture: “Homer to Huygens; Sophocles to Shakespeare; The Venus of Willendorf to Velazquez”

    Yes, jolly good. Lots of fine names dropped there. Alliteration too! But I didn’t mention culture or the renaissance in my post. For the avoidance of doubt, here it is in full:

    But of course. It has to be a rule- and law-based organisation. How else can you make an association of 28 disparate nations work? The alternative to process and procedure is making it up as you go along, or control by the strongest nations, imposed by some form of coercion.

    It is precisely because it is defined by mutually-agreed process and procedure that it is not the German-dominated monolith of some brexiteers’ imagination. And something not to be loathed, but welcomed as a beacon of enlightenment and rationalism in a world where the alternative – epitomised by Trump’s bullying insistence on rewriting NAFTA rules to America’s advantage – generally holds sway.

    I’d have thought it pretty clear that my post was about organisation, not culture. I was defending the merits of a rule-and-law based way of doing things, as contrasted with the bullying free-for-all favoured by Trump. It was my “mutually-agreed process and procedure” that was to be “welcomed as a beacon of enlightenment and rationalism.”

    I was intrigued that you saw the EU’s rule-based structure as a deficiency, or that you thought there could be a more fair and effective way of respecting the interests of 28 disparate countries. And I remain puzzled, since you chose not to respond to what my post was about, but something else entirely.

    As an aside, to address the point you have tangentially raised, I’m not particularly a European cultural elitist, though I’m proud of the cultural heritage which – as your list shows – places us very much in that tradition. There are those posting on this board who feel a much closer affinity with Asia and America, and I respect that, but personally I identify more closely with the European cultural tradition of which Britain (do we really have to use ‘UK’ in a cultural context?) is such a fundamental part.

  16. Somerjohn

    “(do we really have to use ‘UK’ in a cultural context?) ”

    Only if you intend to suggest something that is limited to the actual UK – thus excluding Ireland and the Crown Dependencies, for example – I’d have thought.

    Culturally, we are all pretty similar.

  17. On VI, Matt Singh (of Number Cruncher Politics) tweeted this earlier:

    “For anyone getting polling withdrawal symptoms, there’s a VI poll tonight ????”

    It would make sense for that to be YouGov. Which I would say based on the approval figures they released yesterday, would probably be unchanged on their 3 point Labour lead. Just as a reminder of what the net ratings were:

    Labour: -7
    Corbyn: -13
    Conservatives: -18
    May: -27.

    Nobody is particularly popular, and Labour probably would have hoped for better scores than this. But it’s a much better position than they had found themselves in before the election was called.

  18. Oops, in my last post, ignore the question marks in the tweet. There was an emoji in the tweet which came out like that.


    We have-I agree-strayed a little.

    Probably my fault.

    So lets go back to the beginning. You said the EU is bargaining from “principle not self interest”.

    I disagree. I think they are as intent on their own self interest as we are on ours. Which is absolutely as it should be. Otherwise why turn up to “negotiate”.? They could just send their “Principles” in the shape of their rules, regs, protocols etc in the post. Everything I have read to date indicates to me that their approach will be inflexible & rigid because of the EU’s structure. But I live in hope that mutual self interest , rather than mere process & precedent will ultimately prevail.

    I don’t much like Trump’s approach either-but he is transitory-here today gone tomorrow like most politicians-even European ones.

    Which is why I am more interested in our place in & contribution to the Glorious Heritage that is European Culture , than the current bunch of politicians trying out the latest version of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

  20. Colin: “You said the EU is bargaining from “principle not self interest”.

    Not me, old chap.

  21. Analyst
    Happy, happy, joy, joy!

    As you know the two largest cities in Europe are Istanbul and Moscow.
    Does the ‘europe’ you speak of stretch to the Urals?


    It was Sam !!!

    I’ve been talking to the wrong chap. :-)

    Still-it was kind of fun .

  24. Rumours going around online that Boris Johnson is going to step down as Foreign Secretary, admit that he was wrong about Brexit and campaign against it.

    I would be amazed if this were true, as it would cause Theresa May real problems in keeping her Government proceeding with Brexit as it has so far. It might lead to it being called off, it there is not enough support in Parliament.

  25. R HUCKLE
    Rumours going around online that Boris Johnson is going to step down as Foreign Secretary, admit that he was wrong about Brexit and campaign against it.

    If that is true I will eat Paddy Ashdown’s hat:-)

  26. There is also rumours that trump is going to resign soon, perhaps this week. I’m not believing that, I think he will wait until just before a Senate impeachment vote, which is a long way away

  27. COLIN

    Really enjoyed your 6.34, excellent description of the EU.

    Cricket going splendidly Windies 4 down in the follow on.

    Happy days.

  28. R Huckle: Rumours going around online that Boris Johnson is going to step down as Foreign Secretary, admit that he was wrong about Brexit and campaign against it.

    If that were true, he is probably a decent and honest chap after all ….


  29. RHuckle

    You are the master of the unfounded rumour. The only one i ever believed was that magic mushrooms grow aplenty in your garden.

  30. Re Johnson.

    A quick google on ‘boris johnson resign’ under ‘news’ shows he denied this specifically on 31 July. Any later sightings?

  31. @TOH

    While nice to see the Tyke-led England do well, it’s very sad to see the once great West Indies so diminished.

    They really are a second rate outfit these days.

  32. Scotland

    I see NS wants to change the name of the SNP to remove the word national.
    Has she given up on independence at last as she sees power slipping away?

    what about the Greivance Party. Want independence-go to the GP. it works!

  33. Westminster voting intention:

    LAB: 43% (-)
    CON: 40% (-1)
    LDEM: 6% (+1)

    via @OpiniumResearch, 15 – 18 Aug

  34. David Colby: “As you know the two largest cities in Europe are Istanbul and Moscow.
    Does the ‘europe’ you speak of stretch to the Urals?”

    Interesting question, to which I suspect we all have equally valid answers.

    For me, Europe pretty much ends politically and socially at the current eastern borders of the EU (so that includes Balkans, Switzerland etc).

    Culturally, I’d include Russia, Ukraine, Belarus. Caucasus? Not sure.

    As for Turkey? Nope, sorry.

  35. @ SmileyBen

    Thanks, at last, some real news.

    Except, I suppose we can see why there is no polling over summer. Within errors, absolutely no change whatsoever. So not news at all really. Still, no news is better than bad news.

  36. I declare polldrums.
    Too early for Boris to change his mind about Brexit. Give him time.

  37. s thomas: Scotland – I see NS wants to change the name of the SNP to remove the word national.

    False News AFAICS.

    This source: http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/843041/Nicola-Sturgeon-SNP-change-name-national-Scotland is bound to be unsympathetic, with a thoroughly deceitful headline, but even the quotes they use do not show that she actually wants to change the name.

  38. @monochromeoctober

    Yes, the Express source of all certain news!

    Meanwhile in the real world the Times is reporting on the implications for devolution of trade deals and a push by Fox to renege on May’s commitment to include the devolved administrations on the new Board of Trade.


    Fox’s approach apart from affecting the devolved issues mentioned in the article could also affect health and the NHS in NI, Scotland and Wales.

  39. Opinium 3 point Labour lead, up one since July. Well, I predicted the Labour lead right, but wrong pollster.

    Interestingly, although over slightly different timescales, the most recent YouGov VI (at the beginning of the month) also showed the Labour lead increase by 1, to 3 points.

    I said earlier in the week that I thought the BMG results looked a bit fishy, and that looking at their tables I would’ve guessed the Lab lead to be really about 3 points, unchanged from recent weeks. This opinium poll has provided a pretty solid basis for that. Regardless of where the true position of public opinion is, it looks unlikely to have shifted very much in recent weeks.

  40. TOH


    Windies are not in the same league are they? I wonder what Michael Holding on the Sky team really thinks of it?. Viv Richards was in the Pavilion I see. Those guys were giants. How have they sunk so low.?

    Pleased for Broad. He always bowls his heart out.

  41. Colin
    Basketball and professional athletics have displaced cricket amongst the Windies young people, apparently.

  42. RJW


    No no no! You mustn’t lazily mis-appropriate ‘Europe’ like that! Its insulting! (Wink)

  44. @Colin – “But I do find the Beacon of Enlightenment mantra tedious.

    .European Culture & Enlightenment stretches from Homer to Huygens; Sophocles to Shakespeare; The Venus of Willendorf to Velazquez . The list of names is astounding & their influence unparalleled .”

    Just to bookend this particular chat, while I haven’t thoroughly checked the historic records, I’d wager none of names dropped in your post had the good fortune to live their full lives without seeing a major war between European powers. Since 1945, many have, so I think there is at least something in this Beacon of Enlightenment stuff.

  45. Good job Kosovo was just a sideshow. G’night all.

  46. Istanbul straddles Asia and Europe, half of it is in Europe. Used to be called Constantinople and was the capital of a large part of Europe over a thousand years.

  47. Really interesting comments from the Government’s independent reviewer of terrorist legislation:


    His line seems different to the one suggested by Amber Rudd and Theresa May.

  48. Sam,
    “I think the Brexiteers, mostly, have just realised the EU is bargaining from principle not self interest, and will continue to do so.”

    I have always thought that self-interest is also on the side of sticking to their principles.

    “As happens after every modern era UK devaluation, UK producers tend to go for short term gain rather than long term benefit, and increase prices rather than go all out for higher market share. ”

    Hmm. But is this because there is something different about the mindset of british industry, or about its real weakness? Suppose the reason they push up prices is not a desire to boost profits, but merely to maintain profits at all, because most of that notional profit is swallowed up by the rising cost of imported materials? That in reality the UK isnt producing much, just doing a bit of assembling?

    Sea Change,
    ” the European Union (the key is in the name).”

    Ah, you mean like a trades union, where the idea is to extort as much as possible from non-members?

    Westminster voting intention:
    LAB: 43% (-)
    CON: 40% (-1)
    LDEM: 6% (+1)
    via @OpiniumResearch, 15 – 18 Aug”

    Lib Dems on a charge.

  50. COLIN
    “It is immortal & enduring & has sod all to do with the creation of the European Union-whose endurance & immortality is , as yet, untested.”

    Actually it has, and with the EU’s functioning – and with the subject matter of this thread. If, as worded in @Somerjohn’s riposte- ” something not to be loathed, but welcomed as a beacon of enlightenment and rationalism” – you were to subsitute “vehicle” or “mechanism” for “beacon” (as I think he should to pursue his argument, that the EU must operate rules) you would see why – and why it relates, for example, to John McDonnell’s proposal for a soft Brexit which is, in his words, directed supporting UK jobs and the economy, regardless of structure. Achieving this would make up a substantial part of the looked for outcome of Brexit as the likely and better alternative to a new,centrist party.
    That is to say, reverting to your exchange with @Somerjohn (or @Sam), that there is, of course a connection between culture, structure and economy, best understood in seeing the structure of the EU (or of its separate member states) as comprising institutions, say of their legal, political or trading systems, which operate on the basis of rules and principles. The basis of the debate both about what we want to get out of Brexit (or staying in) and what is hypothetically sought in a new party, are to do who how trade, migration or human and working rights are structured and how one or another outcome would affect jobs, the economy and the quality of life.

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