As the centre collapses, it distorts democracy

by Odrán Waldron on July 14, 2017

Politically homeless was how Gary Lineker put it, not realising that he was summing up nicely why it was that people had abandoned the centrism he was tweeting about craving.

Centrism always has been and always will be homeless, an absence of ideology sheltering itself from the rain with a cardboard box made of subservience to the mythological fancies of market that have served just enough people to save it from being drenched. With the electoral success of Jeremy Corbyn showing the agenda pursued by Labour from Blair to Milliband to have been completely lacking of substance, the centrists have started their attempts to undermine and strip away the democracy they constantly reminded us we were lucky to have.

The Independent last week broke the thoroughly unsurprising news that the remaining Blairites of Labour are planning to introduce measures to curb the influence of supporters of Corbyn on the party’s National Executive Committee. Labour First, “the voice[s] of the moderate members of the party,” want to deprive the rank-and-file membership of Labour of two of its representative seats on the NEC and have them chosen instead by local Labour councillors. The change would give the 7,000 Labour councillors, the majority of whom supported the cardboard cut-out Owen Smith in last year’s monotonous leadership scuffle, four seats, the same amount of seats on the NEC as the 500,000 members. This is the new democracy, they tell us, because councillors are well placed to listen to the people in their constituencies. Instead of allowing the people in those constituencies to choose for themselves, the councillors can do it for them and keep them out of the tedium of the politics they showed an appetite for by joining Corbyn-era Labour en masse.

The centre knows that it cannot offer anything to everyday voters and so it seeks to exclude them. While Corbyn and co. are drawing up fully costed plans for free education and free school meals, centrists make jokes about Trump as Voldemort or the former football striker Lineker leading a new party called Centre Forward. They know that their economic beliefs are devoid of the ability, or desire, to change the material conditions of the majority of people’s lives and so they all they can offer is a nauseating embrace of the 21st Century nerd-as-cool attitude to make themselves seem relatable with their puns and colourful socks.

France’s new president Emmanuel Macron has at least stripped himself of the foot dress-up game and the performative identity politics that people like Justin Trudeau have mastered. Macron has instead shown the disdain for the people and their democracy that every centrist truly has within themselves. The common comparisons are Napoleon and Jupiter, but Macron sees himself as a king, Louis XVII mark two who has announced plans to slash the number of representatives in French parliament and said that government should legislate less while introducing legislation that allows the easier passage of laws through both houses of French parliament. This is all good news for Marine Le Pen, who is almost definitely going to be the president in 2022 if Macron follows the ludicrous path he has started on in his military jeep, sneering out at the country he wishes was a start-up company. It would be no shock if it turned out that Travis Kalanick leaving Uber was actually because he has decided to dress up as a French man for the next five years; God complexes, making doing nothing new appear revolutionary and mass staff lay-offs are at the crux of any start-up CEO’s existence.

Democracy doesn’t exist in start-ups, or in any other companies; decisions are decreed from the top down, as Macron’s plans to “revamp” (read: destroy) France’s labour code will be. Most of the world’s most famous start-ups are tech apps that have done nothing but take existing industries – taxis, hotels, etc. – and disregard all regulations to maximise profit. This complete lack of thinking, of real innovation, or of anything other than contempt for the rest of the world is what attracts someone so devoid of motives other than a desire to make money like Macron to the model. It isn’t some ridiculous notion of efficiency; seventy-five per cent of venture-backed start-ups fail. For a man so arrogant that he lectured the French parliament from Versailles to come to power during France’s seemingly perpetual state of emergency – one he pledged to end without specifying a timeline – that began after the November 2015 attacks is scary for the idea of democracy in a country so rife with right-wingers ready to clasp themselves onto power. Macron’s cartoonish ego, one that won’t allow his “complex thought process” to be scrutinised in the traditional Bastille Day Presidential interview, has made it very easy to forget that France actually has a prime minister.

True democracy within capitalism has always been nominal; it was, after all, designed as a means of subverting everything to the whims of the market. Voting rights were granted begrudgingly to non-landowners and since then the working class voter has analysed with nothing but condescension seen most glaringly when they were blamed for the election of Donald Trump. Any country that so much as flirts with socialism and thus abandons the centre is immediately branded undemocratic, hence the affixation of the vaguely South American sounding Corbynista nickname to Corbyn supporters; the idea is to associate Labour with countries we are told are undemocratic such as Venezuela.

Corbyn and Labour’s successes in the general election and the swell in Labour membership are clear signs that everyday people are tired of being under the thumb of something that has never truly benefitted them. The PR machines of the centrists can still sometimes pull victories out of the bag when they construct affable personalities to hide the uncaring nature of their policies; we have seen it in Canada with Trudeau and his new jogging buddy, Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who, despite not having been elected, has been winning over an international media completely unaware, or uncaring, of the easily discernible class warfare he waged just this year as Minister for Social Protection. But it is becoming more and more obvious that voters won’t settle for politicians who don’t promise to change the material situations in their lives; Hilary Clinton refused to back something as measly as a $15 minimum wage in America while Trump was making wholly unrealistic claims about reopening coalmines and we all know what happened next. While the working class didn’t win it for Trump, there was certainly a swell of voters who bought the ruse.

People aren’t afraid or too lethargic to protest their elected officials if their opinions aren’t being represented anymore, just ask Luciana Berger, or the countless American senators whose offices are being picketed as the American Health Care Act kerfuffle continues. Macron and Labour First would be wise to heed the warnings thrown their way by the examples being set; the king’s blood is rusting on the guillotine, the cardboard box is torn and soggy. In a country that prizes its status as a republic above all else, Macron may need to find some Astérix and Obélix socks if he wants to hang on.

Odrán Waldron is a freelance journalist from Ireland who has previously written for sites such as Politics Means Politics and PopMatters. His work can be viewed here as well as on Medium.

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