Is There Such A Thing As A Political ‘Middle Ground’?

Rory Beveridge

It is safe to say that compromise and pragmatism are probably things that we all strive for in politics, but in recent years competing forces from the far-left and far-right have been tearing this country apart. It is becoming increasingly difficult, and unpopular, to be a centrist.

The middle-ground is ubiquitous with sensibleness, moderation, and a realistic attitude to politics but has increasingly been associated with elitism. Not only is liberal, middle-ground consensus possible, but it is imperative to repairing the damage done in this country.

In 2010, the standard bearers of middle-ground politics, the Liberal Democrats, were the kingmakers in Westminster. Both David Cameron’s Conservatives and Gordon Brown’s Labour failed to achieve a majority in parliament, and Nick Clegg’s fifty-seven Lib Dem seats were key if Brown or Cameron wanted to form a government.

Middle-ground politics is not unpopular, but is being stifled by our out of touch electoral system

Clegg teamed up with Cameron and became deputy Prime Minister until 2015, with his party having a major part in government. Four years later, in December 2019, the Liberal Democrats seat share in the House of Commons dropped from twelve to eleven, with their leader, Jo Swinson, losing her seat.

But they received 11% of the vote, which surely should equate to 11% of the seats in parliament? This which would be over sixty-five seats. Middle-ground politics is not unpopular, but is being stifled by our out of touch electoral system.

So how do we create this middle-ground political climate? It all starts with structural reform. Our political system favours the minority. Labour and the Conservatives will rarely have to compromise on political issues because they are rarely without a majority in parliament.

These majorities are not well deserved either. In 1997, Tony Blair’s landslide victory gave him 62% of the seats in the Commons despite 57% of the public voting against him. The current first past the post system, where the person with the most votes in a constituency wins, is obsolete.  A new system of proportional representation, where the national vote would be reflected in the number of seats a party gets, will allow everybody’s vote to count.

This is the first, and most crucial, change that will help appease the political majority, and represent the views of this country. This would inevitably mean more coalition governments which would bring the most radical elements of the two major parties towards the centre.

If the last five years have shown us anything, it is that first past the post does not necessarily give a stable government

During the 2010-15 coalition government it was the Lib Dems that gave us same-sex marriage, two million new apprenticeships and the increase of the personal allowance, among many other things. This would almost certainly not had happened under a Conservative majority government.

And to the argument that coalitions are not stable; in the past ten years the most stable period of government was the coalition (based on government defeats in parliament). If the last five years have shown us anything, it is that first past the post does not necessarily give a stable government.

It is possible to appease the majority politically, but it requires significant structural change. In the long run it will be worth it because we will have a government elected through fair democratic processes. With more coalitions, the parties would be forced to compromise. After all, isn’t pragmatism a virtue all politicians should strive for?

Rory Beveridge

Featured image courtesy of Shane Rounce via Unsplash. Image license found hereNo changes were made to this image. 

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