Radical Centrism: Why it’s time for the Lib Dems to be bolder


Radical centrism is often thought to be an oxymoron since Centrists rarely appear to want to tear up the current order and replace it with something new. However, given the significant challenges facing UK (and other countries throughout the world) is it not time to be bold in what we propose? For what has been shown across the world in the past year, most notably in France and the US and recently in the UK elections, is that a policy of more of the same will not win you an election.

Theresa May, while deviating from traditional Conservative policy, represented the supposedly “strong and stable” status quo and Corbyn represented something newer and bolder, while the Lib Dems were certainly separate from these two they did not offer anything ground-breaking. The result of the election was a reward for Labour for daring to dream of something new and different, despite the fact that many of their policies only existed in an economic dreamland.

The Lib Dems certainly did well to win 12 seats in a scenario when both Labour and Conservative had vote shares which were much higher than we had become used to, however the question remains whether the Lib Dems could have been the party to inspire people. The answer lies in France with Emmanuel Macron, he dared to do something new with his movement La République en Marche and he inspired people.  Interestingly he won despite the presence of a more radical left-wing rival from the main left-wing party in Benoit Hamon, showing how the left does not have a monopoly on inspiring voters. This should give the Lib Dems hope as if they were to be as bold as Macron and promise something radical, but still centrist, then they could certainly win over the disaffected voters who are nonetheless centrist.

In our world of increasingly polarised politics it is time for the Lib Dems to evolve their policy to offer something radical and distinct from the main two parties.  Then they could certainly fill the centrist hole in UK politics, given that Corbyn’s new socialism and May’s so called Red Toryism push both parties to the extremes. Moreover, a clearer stance on Brexit would not go amiss, since as logical as the arguments for a referendum on the terms of Brexit are, being clearly for EFTA membership or EU membership would help the message get through.

Now is the time for the Lib Dems to push on from our decent showing in the election last Thursday and offer something radical and inspiring to really take the fight to both parties in an increasingly likely early election.

* Luke Jeffrey is Vice-Chair of Devon and Cornwall Young Liberals and the Youth Development Officer for Tiverton and Honiton Liberal Democrats.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Frances Alexander 15th Jun '17 - 3:37pm

    Excellent article, Luke! You should go far.
    Now look at the recent (also excellent) Tony Greaves article, find the comment by Mike S and click on the link at the end – about WHY.

  • Richard Easter 15th Jun '17 - 3:48pm

    I do find it quite interesting that Corbyn’s “economic dreamland” policies are mainstream in many European countries – and yet we are supposed to be the party that wants Britain to become closer to Europe.

    Personally I’m not sure how it benefits Britain having foreign state governments running rail franchises or owning water companies or essential infrastructure, nor cosying up to Wahabbist ISIS-like nations like Saudi Arabia, leaving students in a lifetime of debt and having house prices which are so high that younger people in high paid professional occupations have little chance of affording them, never mind the working class…

    That’s not to say we should not support a vibrant private sector, but at the same time most of Corbyn’s nationalisations are simply what other nations (including even the US) have as default, indeed his manifesto largely seems like Nordic social democracy. If Corbyn suggests we take farms, supermarkets or resturaunts into public ownership, I will start to get worried, but at the moment I am more worried about us going in the other direction – where rape crisis centres are run by idiots like G4S for profit, and where we continue to let the Chinese and Qatari government own our infrastructure.

  • Tony Dawson 15th Jun '17 - 4:07pm

    Under Tim Farron’s leadership, I could see our Party going somewhere along the lines espoused in this article. But, under any of the ‘favorites’ to succeed him?

    Perhaps Layla Moran is what we really with Wera Hobhouse as deputy leader. Then we might see a real shake-out of the forces which drag this party backwards.

  • Joseph Bourke 15th Jun '17 - 4:32pm

    Radicalism is what Liberalism should be about, Luke. Challenging the status quo, seeking radical reform for the betterment of all, in juxtaposition to the static gradualism of Conservatism.

  • Luke Jeffery 15th Jun '17 - 5:28pm

    Firstly thank you all for reading.

    @Frances Alexander Thank you for your comment, and I’ll certainly have a look at that link.

    @Richard Easter My comment on “economic dreamland” was more to do with Labour’s plan to fund all their plans from taxing the top 5% further, and while this certainly would be a fair way to fund it, this group are also not as likely to actually pay these taxes as other groups, especially the super rich who have a long tack record of tax avoidance. On the point of nationalising industries such as water or rail and other natural monopolies this makes more sense as a policy, but is not free and if that top tax band does indeed not pay in the expected numbers then might not end up actually being cost effective as one would like.

    @Tony Dawson It is certainly a shame that the main challengers don’t seem like leaders who would follow this direction, tho I would hope some of them would have seen the missed opportunity and propose something more radical, although we can only hope for that!

    @Joseph Bourke I agree entirely, it’s one of the failings of the 2017 policy platform that we did not offer anything which I would consider particularly radical, and hopefully going forward the party can adopt policies which are more radical

  • Andrew McCaig 15th Jun '17 - 6:33pm

    You have to remember that Macron only succeeded because the Socialists actually got into government in France. Their vote fell from 40% in 2012 to 9% in the 1st round of the assembly elections. I actually like a lot of Corbyn’s policies but they are not a programme for government because the income side of the equation is completely unrealistic. If Labour got into government on that manifesto it would end in tears and eventually we may benefit..

  • Luke Jeffery 15th Jun '17 - 7:31pm

    @Andrew McCaig While I agree that they were damaged by their position as the government, they alongside Les Republicains were the major two parties in the system and the governments often switched between the 2. As a result Macron’s youthful and radical image contrasted sharply between the two “more of the same” parties and it just happened that the Parti Socialiste vote share was not as robust as the LR vote share thus Macron ate into their vote share to a greater extent. This process being helped by the election of a left-wing leader Benoit Hamon who could be seen as the French counterpart to Corbyn. Given the low starting position of Labour in the 2017 campaign had the Lib Dems been more radical and Macron-esque then they may have been able to eat into their vote share before Corbyn’s bounce occured halfway through the campaign, much in the way Macron made use of ineffective leadership from Hamon and the scandal of Fillon which could be slightly mirrored by the Dementia Tax issues from the Conservatives. Thus it’s more to do with the images of the parties in the campaign than simply the effect of a poor term from the PS, especially since the PS started off at 14% in the polls and could have pushed on to make the cut for the second round had Macron not taken over their vote share.

  • Eddie Sammon 15th Jun '17 - 8:47pm

    Good article, especially for an 18 year old. Just over a year ago I thought Macron was a very average politician indeed. He seemed to be the politician for Les Échos, roughly the French version of the Financial Times. Also, he had a tendency to make verbal gaffes. However he has learnt quickly and he reached out to all sections of France. François Fillon might have won though if it wasn’t for his scandals or Alain Jupé or Manuel Valls had they won their primaries.

    Anyway, yes, I think the Lib Dems can take heart from Macron’s success and craft a message that appeals to the majority of the population.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Jun '17 - 12:29am

    Luke Jeffery

    The Lib Dems certainly did well to win 12 seats in a scenario when both Labour and Conservative had vote shares which were much higher than we had become used to

    There were many seats where for decades the Liberal Democrats achieved second place, in some cases won, and were seen as the main challengers to the Conservatives where this time they came a poor third.

    This most definitely is NOT doing well. We have moved from a position where across southern and rural England politics was Conservatives v. LibDems with Labour in an irrelevant third place, to one where almost everywhere it is us who are now the irrelevant third placed party – that include many seats where a few years ago it looked like we could win with a little more push.

    I can see the point in putting a lot of effort into a small number of target seats, so that the party wasn’t actually wiped out and made this very modest gain in numbers, but the cost of losing badly everywhere else makes it difficult to see how we could recover.

    The only way I can see is having a Corbyn government at some time, and it making a mess, as I am sure it would.

    I have to say that far from seeing Labour’s manifesto as “radical left”, it seemed to me to be mostly vague hand-waving, with nothing much to deeply tackle the problems of our society. Sure, it’s easy to say “we’ll spend lots more money on subsidising universities, on the NHS etc etc”, rather harder when it comes to doing that and having to get the money from somewhere.

    The Tories did badly because actually they did say something about how the need for increased care for the elderly might be paid for. A serious radical left-wing approach would have been to take that further by talking properly about the issue of inheritance and how that is the key feature in driving inequality in our society. Corbyn did nothing of that.

  • David Pocock 16th Jun '17 - 7:46am

    I have heard that the new Irish Taoiseach has some things in common with Macron too. Perhaps a movement can be born from radical centralism.

    I agree Tim is prob the guy fit for that mould, I will have to check out Kayla Moran, I do not know of her politics really but a few people are mentioning her name. I would hope to see someone new lead us forward.

  • Andrew McCaig;
    The French Socialists actually followed a policy of austerity and cuts. Their downfall was quite similar to that of the Lib Dems in some ways.. Macron benefited more from the rise of Le Pen than anything else. Both were outside the mainstream. Obviously, it was also a presidential campaign and thus significantly different to British Elections where we elect parties not leaders. Personally, I think Macron has been seized on as a figure of hope mainly because of fears about his closest opponent rather than anything he actually represents. It was an election where the political norms were rejected, not embraced.

  • Luke Jeffery 16th Jun '17 - 8:30am

    @David Pocock I have often thought that some kind of wider reaching movement of centrists in Europe would be in the interest of all such parties, since they all promote themselves as internationalist. Especially given that such parties have made gains across Europe, the best example being En Marche (although other parties fit this idea such as Ciudadanos, D66 or to an extent the FDP), I imagine they may well be able to give all the others advice and it would lend a hand to be endorsed by figures from abroad who are popular.

  • We should promise to renationalize at least water, rail and Green Investment Bank.

    But, unlike Corbyn, we can seek to change the laws so that we can renationalize them with a bunch of gilts rather than hard cash.

  • Neil Sandison 16th Jun '17 - 8:58am

    Radical reforming Liberalism linked to social justice and a good communicator is what we need to continue the fightback for the Liberal Democrats Tim inspired people to join and should be acknowledged for his contribution .We now need someone like Roy Jenkins,Shirley Williams or Charles Kennedy to lift our sights and goals over the next five years to offer a fresh and challenging brand of politics that defends liberty,freedom and equality of oppertunity without pandering to a narrow status quo which is becoming increasing intolerant and conformist.

  • It’s interesting that it’s possible to write an article advocating Centrism without defining it and without answering the obvious question of “In the centre of what?” other than to say, “somewhere between May and Corbyn”. What are our distinctive values and perceptions? Empowerment, devolution, active liberty (whether you can do something, not just whether there is no legal bar to you doing it), environmentalism, co-operation, internationalism (that all humans are of equal value), a more democratic state? How are those centrist?

  • Matt (Bristol) 13th Sep '17 - 11:43am

    Agree with SImon Banks, basically.

    I used to define myself as a ‘radical centrist’ … but …

    Centrism, for all its putative merits is part tactics, part accident and part instinctive compromise, and can be too linked to ‘centralism’. It lacks rationale, apart from a sort of semi-conservative pragmatism.

    Radicalism (when its not just being hyperbolic rhetoric), by contrast has the potential to be a philosophy – ie a recognition that radical structural change is needed to the status quo. But the phrase itself does not indicate what the direction of ‘radical’ travel is. Is it towards authoritarianism or towards democratisation, towards technocratism or towards populism, towards social justice or away from it?

    I’m coming now to see myself as a radical devolutionist communitarian democrat who is pragmatic about macro-economic ideology. That could be implied by ‘radical centrist’, if by ‘centrist’ you mean not economically left and right, but many of my other stances are not politically in the ‘centre’ of the current (shifting, amorphous, inchoate) consensus.

    Radical centrism is two adjectives, it’s not a really a coherent philosophy or a motivation or a vision.

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