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Left, Right and Centre. Belated Thoughts on Charles Kennedy.

June 5, 2015


Most people have had their say about Charles Kennedy by now.  His memory provokes a kind of rueful smile.  One of the few politicians of his age you’d actually want to have a drink with… which turned out to be the problem.  He seemed kind of human, and it turns out that being kind of human is not the way to get on in politics.

Perhaps most important of all, Charles Kennedy was not a centrist.  Never trust a centrist.  Charles Kennedy did not define himself along a continuum.  Charles Kennedy was not the prisoner of a paradigm derived from the seating preferences of the 1790s French national assembly.  He did not wake up in the morning and consider ways in which the political agenda seemed to have moved to the left or the right and move his party accordingly.

Because that’s what a centrist does.  Someone who is obsessive about trying to occupy middle ground is never reliable.  When the political agenda shifts dramatically to the right (as it assuredly has done and is doing), the centrist strikes camp and trudges further to the right themselves, just to preserve fidelity to a principle of equi-distance.  A centrist is nothing more than the bubble in a spirit level.

Much of the media do much the same thing – they assume a continuum and try to occupy a supposed “centre”.  I always imagine the BBC inviting Ming the Merciless onto a discussion programme and trying to be “centrist”.

“Here’s Ming the Merciless  (Hello Ming) who has developed the somewhat radical proposal of exterminating the entire human race.  To answer him, to my left (on the opposite extreme), we have Kevin Nice who doesn’t want to exterminate anyone thank you very much.  And since we’re meant to be centrists – always trying to occupy middle ground – you the viewer will probably go away from this debate believing that exterminating half the human race is a fair and reasonable centrist position to take.”

The truth is, that the Tory version of Austeriarchy has killed quite a few poor people already, and further cutbacks will kill a great many more.  Tory Austeriarchy having won a risible but legal mandate (36% of the vote = 24% of the actual electorate), a great many more people will now die from fuel poverty, suicide, just giving up etc. etc.  People on the “right” of the Labour party now argue that since killing poor people has a mandate, it’s important to strike camp, shift to the right, and kill at least half as many poor people as the Tories.

I didn’t agree with all of Charles Kennedy’s policies.  I didn’t agree with the LibDems about everything.  But their policies, under his leadership, ignored the idea of equi-distance altogether.  Charles Kennedy just argued in favour of policies he happened to believe in.  Once you decide that you need to define a particular point on a “spectrum” as your own, once you decide the degree of “difference” from other parties on that spectrum that you need to retain – then you no longer have any integrity or indeed intellectual or imaginative freedom.   You are in constant flux – defined by others, dragged back and forth (in recent years back) by others.

Under Nick Clegg, the LibDems were reduced to being dragged on the coat tails of others.  UKIP (the establishment on steroids – not some anti-establishment party) – are the advance guard of the Tories, and the LibDems are (or were) the baggage train.  Kennedy voted against the coalition, because he believed that it would mark the end of freedom for the LibDems.  He also voted against the Iraq War on principle – ignoring the issue of where that would place the LibDems on any sort of “spectrum”.
Under Charles Kennedy’s leadership, the LibDems grew and grew.  He ignored “centrism” and embraced a version of liberal social democracy based on policies that he believed to be right, regardless of whether those policies stood on a continuum relative to those of other parties.

I never met the man, but I miss him.  I miss anyone who defies the tyranny of centrism and tries to do their best for other people.

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One Comment
  1. Reblogged this on conradbrunstrom and commented:

    Since everyone is writing about “centrism” right now – I thought I’d repost something I scribbled following the death of Charles Kennedy…

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