The centre-left's big mistake

Book review: OutsidersA warning to politicians not to take the "powerlessness of power" for granted.


How Mainstream Politics Lost its Way

By Steve RichardsPublished by Atlantic Books, £18.99(Buy at Amazon)

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A decade ago, "the age of ideological struggle appeared to be over", says George Eaton in the New Statesman. In most Western countries, "the defining question was no longer which party could change the system but which could best manage it". Brexit and the rise of Trump changed all that. "In country after country, the presumed centre' did not hold."Steve Richards' book argues that the centre (particularly the centre-left) madea big mistakewhen it decided to accept the economic status quo. A result of it having done so is that it ended up being sunk by "the political fury the living-standards crisis would unleash".

The book "is unabashed about where its sympathies lie", says William Davies in The Guardian. Rather than seeing centre-left politicians as out of touch, they are portrayed as "tragic heroes", who were "ultimately undone by their own innate flaws, short-sightedness and circumstances that overwhelmed them". While this willingness to stand up for moderates is "welcome", it also means that they "are granted the benefit of the doubt, despite their recognised failings", while outsiders are "deemed idiotic for hoping for a different politics in the first place".

Overall, Richards is relatively "sanguine" about "the threat posed by populism", says Jonathan Derbyshire in the Financial Times. In Richards' view, the "fall of the outsiders is inevitable" since "electoral success destroys the essence of their pitch". Indeed, US president Donald Trump "is currently learning some painful lessons about the constraints on democratic power".

While, "governing in a democracy was always hard", it has "become even harder under globalisation". However, Richards' book warns that democratic politicians should not take the "powerlessness of power" for granted, "even if their room for manoeuvre turns out to be more circumscribed than it once was".

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

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