What the accidental Radicals reveal about 'centrism'

Last week Jeremy Cliffe, the Economist's Berlin bureau chief, 'accidentally' created a Google account with a name that could only be the name of a political party and asked people to express their interest in joining. Then, he'd have us believe, he was shocked that people did this. The word 'accidentally', as far as I can tell, basically functions as a cover for the fact that Cliffe never had any intention of bothering with any of the activities that you'd normally expect a political party to engage in, like raising money, recruiting candidates, or really trying to change anything. (They have a website, and a Twitter, which have both gone completely silent.)

The noble exception is that they have a manifesto.

Going line-by-line through this would be indulging the absurdity too much. It would also be basically impossible, because most of this manifesto doesn't mean anything. That's also what makes it interesting. Some of these bullet points are just classic things that liberal centrists support: build more houses, support immigration, spend more on infrastructure. These are policies you can support whilst claiming to be beyond ideology; they are all just what the evidence dictates, once you shake off the blinkers of the left and right.

That gets blown out of the water once you let your reasonable-middle-ground imagination run wild. Is building HS2 simply demanded by the facts? I don't know, but I can tell you for certain that immediately green-lighting Crossrail 3 is not, because there is no such project as Crossrail 3. Where would it run from and to? Who knows - and that's before we even think about the fourth and fifth Crossrails and national high-speed lines.

Partly the Radicals manifesto is just a grab-bag of the kinds of ideas (Land Value Tax, proportional representation) that make people very insistent and boring at parties. But in a bigger way it reveals what so many self-described centrists are in denial about: that their politics is just as much based on a utopian vision of society as anyone else's. If the picture of a multicultural United Kingdom where people don't drive much, the environment is looked after, we have a nuclear deterrent but are a bit rueful about it, and federalism has displaced old constitutional traditions - then the Radicals are for you. It's entirely disconnected from the reality of what's politically achievable and, on many points, also from any evidence-based assessment of what the country needs. (Jeremy Cliffe described his project as mad.) Which is fine! But it does make the patronising of people with a different utopia as ideologues and unreflective youth pretty frustrating.

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