26 August 2022

Real moderates recognise that the greatest threat to Britain is the status quo

By Mark Brolin

Most voters like moderation – that’s why politicians often try to portray their opponents as ‘radicals’. We often take radicals to be those who don’t embrace institutionalised groupthink. But what if the real moderates are those who seek to backtrack from political excess?

Everywhere you look there are examples of unprecedented state expansion dressed up as centrist balance: the transfer of voter powers to unelected bureaucrats in internationalist organisations; open borders; ultra-loose monetary policies; an increasingly pro-big business rather than pro-free markets economy and the moralistic wokery facing down anyone challenging the establishment mindset.

When you have one camp in charge for so long, this is the consequence. Key stakeholders keep demanding just a little bit more in return for their support. Sure, each individual step might be small, but as time passes they add up. This is precisely how we have ended up with political excess dressed up as moderation.

This is best described as CINO: Centrism In Name Only. It’s a travesty of centrism, that angrily and summarily cancels non-centrist thoughts. Authentic centrism has no problem chewing on and then soberly balancing non-centrist arguments.

When CINO takes hold, establishment candidates will simply refuse to acknowledge that their side has taken things too far and claim that it is crucial to stay the course. Real moderates, on the other hand, will pursue a less-of-the-same agenda.

Conservative party members get this. Both Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak recognise that they are more at risk if coming across as establishment candidates than as insurgents. Boris Johnson was the first Prime Minister to enter Downing Street by riding this pushback. It also proved to be his undoing when he was eventually vanquished by the forces of the status quo.

But those forces are losing their grip, because they are still stuck in the habit of treating disillusioned voters like village idiots. This is why the strong early establishment support offered to Rishi Sunak has turned out to be a, for him, double-edged sword.

Not that most policy differences between Mr Sunak and Ms Truss are easily distinguishable. But rightly or wrongly, Liz Truss has come across as more willing to rock the boat. This is arguably the key reason she now appears to outdistance her last rival. It must be bittersweet for Mr Johnson that the establishment forces that did him in look set to fail in their ambition to reconquer Downing Street by crowning one of their own. But this is precisely why democracy is so powerful. At the end of the day, voters tend to smell a rat when an establishment strays out of line.

But this doesn’t mean the next Prime Minister’s first speech outside Downing Street should be a Dominic Cummings-style denunciation of the powers that be. Frontal attack tribalism can rarely be beaten with frontal attack tribalism. Instead such attacks typically weaken both sides. Moreover, from John Major to Theresa May, UK governments have embraced the almost unrestrained globalist – and certainly paternalist – mindset now falling out of fashion. So up until only a few years ago the civil service has, just as intended, delivered precisely what it has been asked to deliver. During the Theresa May years many key civil servants were moreover instructed to oppose the “radicalism” of status quo challenger Boris Johnson. Again it delivered. So, when the latter nevertheless ended up in Downing Street, with Dominic Cummings as his Richelieu, is it really so strange that the Johnson administration were treated as imposters? Still to this day civil servants have not been offered an intellectual narrative that comprehensively explains why they should think differently.

This is why the next Prime Minister should immediately offer not only civil servants – but the entire nation – a comprehensive less-of-the-same agenda. An agenda that does not abandon any of the causes mentioned; just backtracks into the territory of real balance and moderation. After openly and honestly acknowledging – without woke cancellation – the trade-offs linked to all policy decisions.

The beauty of such an agenda is that it can appeal to four key groups. First, to right-wingers seeking less market interventionism. Second, to ‘red wallers’, who seek respect and pragmatic action, not ridicule and PR-fluff. Third, to real centrists, the large and acutely betrayed voter group which has always voted for authentic balancing acts. Fourth, to civil servants who would finally be offered the narrative needed to climb down from CINO groupthink.

A Prime Minister that offers nods of respect in all directions, while also making perfect sense rationally, really can heal the nation a lot quicker than many  think.

Such a Prime Minster would also have a strong chance of securing, in 2024, a historic five-in-a-row win for the Conservative Party. How so? Because, the Corbyn faction are far from the only radicals in the Labour Party. The centre-left Starmer faction hasn’t even started to seriously challenge the CINO groupthink. Labour’s only remaining asset is its institutionalised reputation as the party of moderation. Puncture that, and today’s Labour Party arguably has no strong and solid selling point left.

A less-of-the-same-agenda also happens to be the quickest way back to UK prosperity. History shows that with a vital democracy, individual freedom and domestic peace there’s no problem that can’t be solved. Including the big ones we face today such as inflation, energy shortages, climate change and war in Ukraine. Domestic peace is impossible as long as excess dressed up as moderation remains a dominating feature in just about every policy area. This is why the greatest threat to Britain right now is the status quo.

Click here to subscribe to our daily briefing – the best pieces from CapX and across the web.

CapX depends on the generosity of its readers. If you value what we do, please consider making a donation.

Mark Brolin is a Political Analyst, Economist and Author. ‘Healing Broken Democracies: All you need to know about Populism’ is his most recent book.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX