The centre-left’s big mistake

The Rise of the Outsiders How Mainstream Politics Lost its Way coverOutsiders: How Mainstream Politics Lost its Way
By Steve Richards
Published by Atlantic Books, £18.99
(Buy at Amazon)

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) made a big mistake when 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”.