Monday, April 24, 2017

Defending the Centre - 2

Emmanuel Macron’s success in the first round of the French presidential election leads one to speculate about the chances of a revival of centrism in Europe. While many mainstream media outlets are still plugging the ‘rise of extremism’ narrative, directing their attention and that of their readers to Marine Le Pen, the likelihood that the French electorate is starting to weary of the tensions provoked by the right wing seems to be growing.

Looking elsewhere in Europe, the prospect of such a change does not seem unrealistic. Indeed, as the researcher Ulrich Speck recently pointed out on Twitter, while in France the centre has a slight majority, in Germany the centre has a majority of around 80 percent. And while the party system in France is beginning to break up at the edges, in Germany it is still strong. If Angela Merkel stays the course, the hopes for a centrist, less divided Europe could be far from delusionary.

In the U.K. an alliance of Labour moderates and Liberal Democrats led by Tony Blair and Tim Farron appears to be slowly forming behind the scenes, in spite of LibDem denials. A new electoral force led by these two pro-EU, anti-Brexit politicians could change the balance of power in Britain decisively, supplant the incoherent Labour leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, make UKIP irrelevant and deprive Theresa May’s government of its current populist surge.

These are not vain expectations: though the path to a centrist Europe may be long and complex, it certainly exists, and is beginning to look more promising. Whatever happens to the presidency of Macron, France is not going to be the ‘third domino’ after Trump and Brexit, and the question now is whether there and elsewhere electorates that have tired of party politics can be persuaded to vote for groupings that represent a true change in European political life. Will they reject the sham-democratic, populist scenarios promoted by sections of the press and media that represent the vested interests of a few?
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