Vying for the centre-ground

‘Left, right, and centre’. Those are the three directions which we’ve grown accustomed to applying to the political spectrum, and what we believe it to consist of. Seeing as these are the specifications which the political spectrum is composed of, these are also translated into political beliefs which people choose to affiliate themselves with. In terms of common descriptions, the right is often associated with the upholding of traditional societal values related to family, religious and economic issues, whilst mainly appealing to conservative, hierarchical and capitalist political beliefs. Elsewhere, the left often vouches for equality and a fair, just and equitable distribution of wealth, whilst mostly encompassing liberal, socialist and progressive political views.

Then, we have the centre of the spectrum, which one can easily assume to be a combination of the left and the right. The middle-ground, or centre-ground as it is often referred to, can be considered to be the socio-political space in which everyone resides, regardless of their views and ideological dispositions. Since it’s right in the middle, the centre is a place where voters share common concerns, which are coupled with pragmatic solutions, and in which both the left and the right can discover more which unites them rather than what causes division. In terms of instances throughout history where we’ve seen political leaders cementing their party-based approach, only for this to be followed by electoral success, we can list quite a few examples. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama in America when they were respectively at the helm of the Democratic Party. Matteo Renzi in Italy. Gerhard Schroder in Germany. Justin Trudeau in Canada. Emmanuel Macron with his ‘En Marche’ party in France. Perhaps notably, the most popular example of centrism in practice was exhibited between 1997 and 2010 in Britain, during which the Labour Party was in government, and which had been remodelled as ‘New Labour’.  Collectively, this transformation was the brainchild of the party’s leading political figures, with these being Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson amongst others.

The centre-ground can be considered to be the socio-political space in which everyone resides, regardless of their views and ideological dispositions.

However, Malta is certainly no exception in this regard, with the next example having only been developed after 2008, and reaching its fruition in 2013. This was presented in the form of the ‘movement of progressives and moderates’ (moviment ta’ progressivi u moderati) which was constructed around Labour whilst Joseph Muscat was at the helm of the party. Throughout this period, and ever since, Labour has gone on to secure over 10 electoral victories, ranging from local council and European elections, and two landslide general election victories in 2013 and 2017. Barring the 2-year term in government influenced by the modernisation spearheaded by Alfred Sant when he was Labour leader, the transformation ushered in by Muscat saw Labour go from having been in opposition for 25 years, to being a political party yielding electoral success in a consecutive manner. Having occupied the centre-ground of Maltese politics, it’s only natural to expect that Labour’s dominance isn’t met with competition, as should be the case in a democratic society.

As I’ve already laid out, the centre is a space within the political spectrum where everyone coalesces. Therefore, it’s safe to assume that the Nationalist Party would do its utmost to combat Labour’s dominance inside this space, be it by trying to make inroads into it, or by attempting to occupy a space which has until now been left untouched. In the case of the former, this clearly has not yet materialised successfully, whilst the latter has not proved successful altogether. One can see what the PN’s heightened focussing on making combatting corruption its sole and pivotal battle-cry has led to, in the form of defeat which it suffered in 2017 and the dismal survey results which it has carried on incurring ever since. The most recent debacles surrounding debate concerning the legalisation of responsible cannabis use and abortion can also be factored into these considerations, whilst warranting an article of their own should I want to do these issues any justice.

Having laid out the benefits which come with a party occupying the centre, one must nonetheless still be conscious of its shortcomings. Despite centrism in practice having proven to be electorally advantageous, the same is debateable with regards to centrism as a mode of governance. What has yielded short-term outcomes which prove beneficial may yet be unsustainable in the long-term, and may very well detract from a political party’s foundational core beliefs. In Labour’s case, its appeal to moderates and centrists, can indeed be solidified alongside its ideological edifice which was, and continues to be socially-democratic, progressive, liberal and socialist. These elements need not be at odds with one another, but may complement each other in order to generate socio-economic change, progress and prosperity, which if only reaching a few, must be unleashed for all to enjoy. 

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