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. And on the subject of the biased British media….

    ‘A “heavy handed approach” often in the name of national security has seen the UK slip in the rankings of countries with the world’s freest press, according to a new report by Reporters Without Borders. Scandinavian countries have the freest press in the world, the non governmental organisation said in its World Press Freedom Index 2017, while the UK is slipping onto “a worrying trend”, it said. It added that only 16 countries in the world were rated as “good” this year. At the top of the list, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark lead the way followed by the Netherlands, Costa Rica, Switzerland, Jamaica, Belgium and Iceland.’

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/world-press-freedom-index-2017-reporters-without-borders-uk-freedom-information-a7893211.html

  2. MICHAEL SIVA

    Re the press – anyone who can’t see now ludicrous it was to conflate balanced leave/stay campaigns with the most dreadfully unbalanced coverage of “news”papers, who actually just offered opinion and one-sided and distorted articles, really need to re-think.

    It is precisely the sort of thing that we we would criticise in other countries.

    Of course it is easy to say that the political views of the press reflect the political views of the public rather than the other way round.

    But even if one accepts that [which I don’t] surely, during important referenda campaigns, there should be some restrictions on the press, and an effort made to ensure balanced reporting rather than propaganda. From both sides.

  3. “What does a new ‘centrist’ party have to offer”

    Well, it doesn’t need to be a bland, watered down version of the main elements the ones we have at the moment.

    Personally I would find it quite easy to come up with a mix of proven, popular policies that could appeal to enough voters to work. Obviously this is not the forum to air them – but the last election certainly offered a lot of clues.

  4. I don’t understand why the media and some of the political class keep banging on about a new centrist party.

    Why do we need it, what would it offer?

    We have a theoretically centrist party, the LibDems.

    What policies would a new centrist party offer? Would it look like Blair’s New Labour in ideological approach, or more like Cameron’s Tories? Who would vote for it?

    A new party would struggle under FPTP.

    I don’t think there is much appetite in the public at large for a ‘centrist’ party that was offering a continuation of the current status quo. After an initial honeymoon period in the media, and possibly a decent showing in local elections, the future of such a party would be short lived and would end up with a merger with the LibDems, to make the LibDemDems.

  5. A key difference between the Lib Dems and a new centrist movement would have to be populism.

    Centrist populism is a difficult thing to acheive; whereas left-wing populism can blame business for the world’s ills, and right-wing populism tends to blame immigrants, a populist centrist movement must logically blame the political classes and the electoral system, which is a less easy path to tread, especially if the new movement is formed largely of existing politicians from other parties.

    Equally, the formation of such a party from MPs of across the spectrum would immediately bring down the government and cause a new general election, which probably wouldn’t give them enough time to put their message out there before the country went to the polls; it would be politically very dangerous for any MPs choosing to join.

  6. On the subject of the Indy and polling, I thought Ben Chu was a bit cheeky in saying:

    When conventional opinion polls are published by news organisations the full raw results are published online by the polling company simultaneously, so that anyone can look at the underlying data and the precise framing of the questions.

    Given that we haven’t had the full BMG tables for the polling the Indy published on Sunday yet and it took nine days for them to put up the tables for the (non-VI) polling stories that they carried in July, stones and glasshouses come to mind.

    We have had today the first tranch of BMG tables relating to opinion on tuition fees[1]:

    http://www.bmgresearch.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Independent-Tuition-Fees-14082017.xlsx
    (Excel file – Sample: 1512 GB adults aged 18+; Fieldwork dates: 7 – 11 August 2017)

    and you can work out some sort of VI figures from the weighted base in their extensive cross-tabs, which I reckon are:

    Con 39% (+5)

    Lab 43% (-1)

    LD 7% (-1)

    UKIP 5% (-1)

    SNP 3% (-)

    PC *% (-1)

    Green 3% (-1)

    The changes are from similarly-derived figures from the July BMG:

    http://www.bmgresearch.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Independent-Tables-Public-Sector-Pay-Rise-21072017.xlsx
    (Excel file. Fieldwork dates: 11- 14 July 2017; Sample: 1518 GB adults aged 18+)

    the headline of which was not published, probably because it would have been an implausibly large Labour lead. Of course BMG may be making further adjustments to these weighted ones (though that hardly went well for them pre-GE), but I do wonder if someone reversed the figures on the August poll by mistake, especially given Corbyn’s lead.

    [1] They seem to think that fees only go up to £9000 and of course they didn’t say that it only applied to England.

  7. Regards a ”new’ centre party, there is nothing stopping the Lib Dems putting forward a ‘populist’ Liberal agenda along the lines being described.

    The problem that they would immediately encounter is that they have compromised their ability to criticise the political classes due to their failure to stand up – and be SEEN to stand up – to the Tories in Coalition.

    That’s not to say they shouldn’t try, but it is a long road back to credibility from where they were in 2015 and they have barely started on that journey.

    Personally I think the idea of a new party is a total dead duck…

  8. I don’t hold out much hope for a new party either. However my post above was simply a comment on “what could it offer?” and, in my view it would be quite a lot.

    Why the Lib Dems didn’t have an arms’ length agreement with the Tories in 2010 I will never understand; although, once again, it demonstrated that parties don’t have a single view. There were far too many Lib Dems who were very comfortable to be hand in glove with a Tory government.

    Which is why it will be a very long time before they can be viewed as an independent thinking, “centre” party again.

  9. HMG have published the new customs paper for the EU here.

  10. Paul,

    “Why the Lib Dems didn’t have an arms’ length agreement with the Tories in 2010 I will never understand;”

    Hubris!

    They believed their own propaganda that they really were a different type of Party and could really make a difference.

    Harsh reality was a harsh mistress!

    Still think the “Democrats” are a gift to the Tories.

    An alternative to Labour just when it looked almost electable.

    Peter.

  11. Having read the HMG “Future customs arrangements” paper, it really is pretty underwhelming.

    The BBC article which links to it seems to agree, with:

    The government says it will propose an “innovative and untested approach” to customs checks as part of its Brexit negotiations.

    The model, one of two being put forward in a newly-published paper, would mean no customs checks at UK-EU borders.

    The UK’s alternative proposal – a more efficient system of border checks – would involve “an increase in administration”, it admits.

    A key EU figure said the idea of “invisible borders” was a “fantasy”.

  12. BARBAZENZERO,

    “The model, one of two being put forward in a newly-published paper, would mean no customs checks at UK-EU borders.”

    We’re going to pretend to have Border Controls!
    We won’t check your trucks if you don’t check us.

    As to exporters self certificating, that’s Christmas for carousel fraud!

    Peter.

  13. ROGER
    Understood.
    I should,however, like to have been a fly on the wall in the discussion which I assume must have taken place since between whoever at Yougov handled the use of their sample and the LSE researchers. LSE has a maverick tradition but not one of bad or misapplied research.

  14. BZ

    the most predictable post of the year. Including,of course, the mysterious yet ubiquitous key EU figure to rubbish it.

    I am glad to see that the illogicality of the EU position on The Irish question is beginning to dawn on even the most obtuse

  15. S THOMAS

    Don’t shoot the messenger. If you don’t like the fact that the BBC article didn’t name the mysterious yet ubiquitous key EU figure, then comments are open on the article or use the “Contact the BBC” button at the bottom of the page to complain.

  16. PETER CAIRNS (SNP) @ BZ

    Agreed. No wonder Donaldson was cross with the Taoiseach’s “Ireland wouldn’t design a border for the Brexiteers”.

  17. Early reaction at Slugger’s to UK position paper. Lacking detail is the complaint.

    “What’s really unclear, of course, is exactly why the EU would agree to this. There is an existing customs union, which the UK is in. It gains nothing by granting the power to form another identical one, for no reason except to make the international trade secretary feel better about himself. There is also considerable confusion over the legal status of this arrangement. We’d be out the EU, and therefore outside the remit of new EU law and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). Presumably Westminster would promise to reflect any new EU law in its own books during this transitional period. But what about new ECJ interpretation of EU law? We just don’t know and it’s not clear the Brexit department does either.

    After this period is over, the government is proposing two alternate models for a future relationship: a streamlined customs arrangement or a new customs partnership. It is not clear which they prefer or why. It is not even clear if they have a preference. What is clear is that they have no idea how much they will cost, if any new buildings would need to be leased in order to oversee them, what kind of infrastructure is required to deliver them, if new training would be necessary, how much the various technical solutions they propose would cost or whether they would fit into our existing systems.”

  18. Have no fear, it is all going to plan

    “The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union tells the Today programme the Brexit process so far has gone “incredibly well”. He said the lack of clarity over what the government plan is intentional, calling it “constructive ambiguity”.

    I was worried that the Government didn’t know what it was doing or what it wanted, but am now re-assured it’s all part of a cunning plan:-)

  19. @NeilJ

    Can you help me? I’ve worked out that BoJo is the Prince Regent, but who is Baldrick?

  20. SAM

    Thanks for the heads-up on the new Slugger article.

    On the bright side, para 43 of the HMG document [p10 of the PDF] does at least seem to show some DUP influence with:
    We must avoid a return to a hard border, and trade and everyday movements across the land border must be protected as part of the UK-EU deal.

    If that’s reneged on by HMG then PM Corbyn could be in #10 quite soon.

    The quotes from Ian Dunt are good, but it’s well worth reading his full article: The government’s customs union plan is an absolute dog’s breakfast.

  21. Could one of our resident brexiteers give us a couple of paragraphs on why the ‘temporary customs union’ is a masterstroke and will be eagerly embraced by all 27 EU members?

    Or alternatively, why we should forget letting ourselves down gently and head pell-mell over the cliff edge?

  22. somerjohn

    Yes the EU exporters to britain do not want their goods stacked up at calais. s they export more to us then we do to them it is in their interest to have trade as free aspossible.
    Can you think of any reason why they would not apart from spite?

  23. @BIGFATRON
    Can you help me? I’ve worked out that BoJo is the Prince Regent, but who is Baldrick?

    Michael Gove

  24. S THOMAS @ SOMERJOHN

    If HMG do not want that, then they simply need to agree an extension to the leaving date.

  25. Somerjohn
    “Could one of our resident brexiteers….”

    I think many of us have pretty much given up posting on brexit because the pointless arguments just go round and round in circles. I’d be quite happy to hear nothing more about it until a government announcement of the final deal in March 2019.

  26. S Thomas,

    “EU exporters to britain do not want their goods stacked up at Calais.”

    True, but if it is to much hassle, they can turn to the much larger single market and try to substitute British goods. We can do the same but in a much smaller market.

    The mutual lack of competition may negatively effect prices. on the continent it will be marginal given that even if we lose half our exports its less than 5% of their total.

    On our side we could see rising prices because of a lack of choice or indeed falling prices because British producers are desperate to sell.

    After all they wouldn’t be sending it across the Channel if they could get better prices here.

    Fact is nobody knows how this will pan out. their will be winners and losers on both sides but over all the much greater size of the EU certainly suggests they will be suffer less pain and be better able to bare it.

    Peter.

  27. Peter Cairns (SNP)

    Genuinely good to have you back posting.

    It is always useful to have the views of endangered political parties :-)

  28. Well, tomorrow’s FT editorial days that the passenger in the back of the No 186 bus has more understanding of Brexit Han the government.

    I don’t exaggerate it, so if there is exaggeration, it is the FT.

  29. Perhaps the “new centrist party” might be one that didn’t promise that new IT systems would solve all the problems?

  30. If a new centrist party was formed with a handful dissident Tory and Labour MP’S it could prove counter productive.
    Conservatives would be more right wing and anti Europe without the counter balance. Also Labour would become more Left without.
    If it was a handful of less well know MPS it would become obscure farily quick.
    To have any chance it would need to involve a significant number of MPS. Incorporate the LIB Dems, and have some political heavyweights like David Milliband and George Osborne involved.

  31. If a new centrist party was formed with a handful dissident Tory and Labour MP’S it could prove counter productive.
    Conservatives would be more right wing and anti Europe without the counter balance. Also Labour would become more Left without them.

    If it involved a handful of less well know MPS it would become obscure quickly.

    To have any chance it would need to involve a significant number of MPS. Incorporate the LIB Dems, and have some political heavyweights like David Milliband and George Osborne involved.

  32. I’m so bored of Brexit, dear God, we have another 18 months of this and then at least 3 years transitional period. I feel like it will never end. So sick of it

  33. @petercairns snp

    Good to see you back but remember it’s best not to feed trolls!

  34. S Thomas: “Can you think of any reason why they would not apart from spite?”

    Hmm, well, 27 reasons, actually.

    Any marginal loss of sales to the UK will be weighed against the overwhelming importance of keeping the single market growing and prospering.

    And customs delays, red tape and tariffs will quickly kill the place of most UK component suppliers in the EU supply chain. All that repatriation of manufacturing capacity to the continent will work wonders for EZ economies. And competition will ease: Honda, Toyota and Nissan, for example, will have no reason to keep their UK plants going once the EU-Japan FT deal kicks in.

    I could go on, but I don’t want to bore CR…

  35. CR: “I’m so bored of Brexit”

    I think we all find some of the topics aired on UKPR boring. I, for instance, find the internal politics of the Labour party oh-so-tedious. And I’m not entirely fascinated by allotments, or the weather in Bournemouth. But I don’t complain, I just pass on to the next coruscating piece of brexit commentary.

  36. CR

    I agree that it’s boring which is why I plan to not stay for the second half of the show.

  37. @Peter Cairns @ S Thomas

    Regarding UK/EU trade, people often forget that UK and EU mainland based companies are part of a supply chain.

    For example, within 10 miles of where i live there are dozens of companies that have almost daily deliveries of parts and/or materials from EU mainland that go into products that are sold to UK, EU and non EU consumers. if you start messing around with tariffs or customs checks, then it will severely affect these businesses. As soon as you make UK factories uncompetitive, they stop producing for non UK consumers and might stop altogether.

    In my opinion, the UK needs tariff trade with the EU and unfettered access to EU single market or it risks loosing thousands of jobs and loss of tax revenues. If this easy access does not happen, It is the knock on effect of tariffs and barriers that will hurt, as the supply chain becomes too expensive and difficult. Some of these companies will decide that they are better off being based within the EU, if it did not make business wise to continue in the UK.

  38. SOMERJOHN

    Iam not bored with Brexit, as you know I look forward to it with enthusiasm.. What is boring and predictable is the endless posts by Remainers speculating about Brexit.

  39. CAMBRIDGERACHEL
    “I’m so bored of Brexit, dear God, we have another 18 months of this and then at least 3 years transitional period. I feel like it will never end. So sick of it”

    I’m fedderupper than you.

    SOMERJOHN
    “And I’m not entirely fascinated by allotments, or the weather in Bournemouth. But I don’t complain…”

    Well, fairy nuff – Rosie and Daisie don’t like allotments either. But the weather in Bournemouth!!!! Plus regular reminders that it’s 65th on Labour’s target of seats they will almost certainly not win at the next election.

    How can you not be fascinated? Entirely?

  40. TOH

    I was wondering if you fancied this for Xmas?

    “Publisher the Bodley Head has announced that Nick Clegg’s manual about remaining in the EU would be published on 5 October. It is titled “How to Stop Brexit (And Make Britain Great Again)”.

    Sounds like a good read.

  41. Paul Croft: “How can you not be fascinated? Entirely?”

    I know, I know. We all have our shameful foibles, and I’m afraid mine (sorry – one of mine) is a perverse lack of interest in south coast meteorology. Mind you, I did go there last year for a friend’s dad’s 100th birthday. I think there’s something in the climate that keeps them going. Maybe there’s a polling link…

  42. SOMERJOHN

    Well, the good news is that the transitional arrangements should last long enough, and be pretty much the same enough, for people to gradually forget we were ever supposed to leave.

    Then, add the ole Cleggster’s, best-selling “How To” manual into the equation, and we can be back in pride of place as lead moaner, and still within the EU.

  43. Paul Croft

    That would be amusing, if only to see Farage’s reaction.

  44. PAUL
    How can Daisie and Rosie not like allotments? They contain the highest population per sq.m. of small mammals of any land mass in the UK (I just made that up.)

  45. JP

    “PAUL
    How can Daisie and Rosie not like allotments?”

    I’ve never thought to ask: I’ll check and get back to you on this one.

  46. TOH isn’t a small mammal is he?

  47. Evening all.
    Just back home from a long run across Bournemouth East with the Club, which is, Paul Croft, a mere 75 on Lab’s list, according to the Bournemouth West candidate, and where there was a red sunset over the Purbeck Hills.
    BREXIT seems to be dominating UKPR and UK Politics.
    IMO the Centre Party’s prospects are a little over estimated

  48. CL45

    I’ll pop that straight inin my diary this time. I had thought that you kept saying 65.

    Ta for weather update also. It’s autumn up’t’north.

  49. Brexit grinds on, with the trade paper today signalling a significant new low in the UK government’s approach to this. It’s somewhat alarming to see the complete lack of understanding that is coming through in these official briefings, and repeatedly UK positions are being flattened by the EU side, for very good reason.

    We don’t yet appear to have reached the point where Brexiters understand what is happening, and as a result they seem incapable of framing any kind of useful response. All this, and we are a quarter of the way through the A50 period.

    On the issue of trade, the hoary old chestnut of ‘they export to us more than we export to them so they’ll do what we want’ argument has been bandied about here again, which again simply demonstrates an intellectual inability or pathological unwillingness to understand.

    When making international comparisons between many economic factors such as debt, employment, tax levels, trade flows etc, it’s convention, as well as common sense, to use relative, not absolute numbers. If I want to compare Portugal’s unemployment to Canada’s, the actual numer of unemployed in each country is an interesting point of note, but is a bit useless as a indicative data. I want to know the rates of unemployment in each country.

    Trade is the same. The gross value of specific trade flows is of some interest in certain analyses, but if we are assessing the impacts of something like Brexit on trade to the UK and the EU27, the volume of trade in each direction is far, far less important than the respective proportions of GDP that are represented by these trade flows, or what they represent as a proportion of all exports.

    44% of UK exports go to the EU, while just 8% of EU exports come here. In relative terms, which is what matters here, the UK stands to lose far more than the EU from any disruption to trade, because that’s what the economic numbers say.

    This is a point made repeatedly by very sensible posters and commentators on here and elsewhere, and then ignored completely by some seemingly very unintelligent responders. Time and time again.

    This is before we get to the even more important point that the big European exporters are telling their governments not that they must protect that 8% of exports at all costs, but that they must preserve the single market at all costs, even if that means hanging the UK out to dry. That notable but not very large hit is a price worth paying, as ar as they are concerned.

    This really isn’t rocket science, but while I would expect some on UKPR not to understand this simple economic data, I had rather hoped our government might have done better. Seemingly not, judging by today’s performance.

  50. We had to light the firs last night and burn logs!

    Peter.

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