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A new centrist party won't ‘break the Westminster mould.’ Corbyn has already broken it

PLANS for a new “centrist” party to “break the Westminster mould” of politics are in fact aimed at doing precisely the opposite.

There’s a dull predictability about initiatives like the one given a glowing write-up in yesterday’s Observer, in which “philanthropists” come together to form a new party of the so-called centre.

Ever since Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party, Westminster has seen periodic flurries of enthusiasm for some kind of breakaway outfit comprising its more right-wing (“moderate” in mass media terminology) MPs.

Since David Cameron lost the EU referendum in 2016, committing Parliament to honour the people’s decision to leave the bloc despite a large majority of its MPs of all parties wanting to stay in, the idea of bringing MPs from both major parties into some new formation that would seek to maintain the pre-Corbyn and pre-Brexit status quo has gained a sympathetic ear — in some quarters.

Those quarters are Westminster itself and the media and business elite. In short, an Establishment riddled with anxiety that it has lost control of British politics and casting around for a way to get back in the saddle.

The latest effort by LoveFilm founder Simon Franks has apparently amassed £50 million in funding from wealthy entrepreneurs and former Tory donors. 

In Establishment eyes this millionaire pedigree is of course far more respectable than Labour’s funding through the donations of millions of ordinary working people by the democratic decisions of their trade unions.

It will “borrow ideas from the left and the right,” an approach that might seem more radical if it wasn’t the stock-in-trade of Tony Blair’s “third way.” 

Policy details are scarce, but the focus on “wealth creation and entrepreneurship” while voicing concerns around social mobility and immigration sounds very Blair. 

Far from “breaking the mould” of Westminster, this project is a response to the fact that the mould has already been broken.

A mass membership Labour Party, committed to expanding public ownership, clipping the wings of big business and the banks, empowering trade unions to defend and advance rights in the workplace and economic planning to end Britain’s grotesque regional inequalities and ensure the fourth industrial revolution benefits ordinary people instead of grinding them down, is a novel feature of British politics.

When combined with its leader’s radically new approach to foreign policy, in which we might pursue peace abroad, multilateral solutions to international disputes and stop arming tyrants, we can see that Labour is the movement breaking with tradition — although there is a long way to go.

Pundits who lament that Labour’s shift left, at a time when Theresa May’s Conservatives remain paralysed by divisions over Brexit, leaves the “centre ground” wide open are ignoring the lesson of the Liberal Democrat meltdown in 2015.

The “centre ground” shifts in accordance with political realities and the response to Labour’s manifesto last year confirms years of polling showing the public are in favour of widespread nationalisation and redistribution of wealth. As Corbyn declared at last year’s Labour conference: “We are the mainstream now.”

Nor will any amount of liberal gushing hide the fact that the agenda of “centrists” in power is often suspiciously similar to the agenda of the neoliberal right — hence the ease with which Lib Dems reconciled their consciences to Cameron’s cuts and the sweeping attacks on workers’ rights and the public sector by Emmanuel Macron in France.

If British politics is polarised, that is because it has become clearer and clearer that the system is not only failing the majority — it is built on our continued exploitation and impoverishment.

Labour remains the only sizeable force in British politics that has grasped that reality, and a Labour government led by Corbyn remains the only option for British progressives.

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